Where: Trinity Laban
When: Tuesday December 8th 2015
SKADooSh Dance’s newest work TANGRAM invites viewers into an abstract world driven by shape, sound and sensation, as three dancers get to grips with a life-size tangram puzzle. The hour-long piece is architectural yet spirited, full of structure and delight. Backed by a playful score that moves between urgent beats and childlike melodies, the dancers constantly explore what the pieces of the puzzle can become. They move through a number of surreal motifs; the shapes become limbs, objects, and even living things as each colourful piece separates and comes together in ever-changing forms. A boat, a cat, a house, even a giant Pac-Man that munches the rest of the blocks – and a dancer or two – become possible through Laura Verbeek’s constantly discovering choreography. The images are ephemeral, appearing only for a moment before they are gone again, and yet it feels as though every possible option is being fully explored before us. There’s a real sense of the work that has gone into making this piece, and at the same time a window into the true extent of where imagination can take us, if we allow it.
There are striking moments within TANGRAM but they are always fragments; a conveyor belt of colourful ideas constantly passing by. And yet there is something innately alluring about this nonsensical work that never stops for breath. An hour at times feels dauntingly long, and yet the longer we watch, the more we become lost within the hypnotic world unfolding before our eyes. Dancers Hannah Cameron, Laura Heywood and Sarah Hitch are partly responsible for this, handling the oversized blocks with a sense of admirable ease and grace. All three are strong in their own ways; complimenting each other through mixes of theatrical characterisation and fluid movements, individuals that fit together as easily as the tangram itself. Towards the end the piece changes pace; as the dancers move through a series of fast, rhythmic gestures, their precision and awareness of each other truly demonstrates how well they work together. While the choreography may be driven by shape and play, this simple yet enthralling moment shows how it is the dancers that carry it, making a simple concept compelling and inanimate objects alive.
On Saturday April 11th Backspace Collective presented their first evening of works together, after the group’s artistic residency at Longfield Hall, Camberwell. Their work is like the contents of a curio cabinet; a collection of rare oddities whose true meanings lie beyond our comprehension, yet fascinate us all the same.
Hannah Parsons opens the night itself with her solo Standing Outside With No Shoes and There’s Wind, displaying the best use of a vacuum cleaner that I’ve ever seen in performance. She glides across the room in a floor length dress, regal and composed in great contrast to the clunky, wheezing Henry hoover she drags alongside her. As she works through a series of appearing and disappearing our eyes dart across the room like a tennis game whilst Henry stares at us with a knowing side eyes. Perhaps this is less of a solo and more of a duet. The final moments are the strongest as she descends to the floor with a wooden box on her head, a charged balancing act as she continues to move, suspense building with the box’s every wobble. It’s minimal, but enthralling.
Lorea Burge moves with ease in her work Somewhere, maybe here, traces of live guitar notes linger in the air as she uncovers the space around her. A microphone lies surreptitiously on the ground, suddenly brought to life as it amplifies her noises. Breathy, airy fragments of words start to emerge in the same way as the real bubbles she blows on stage. It provides no clears answers, but shows the value of the question.
In a short interval Hannah and Lorea both reappear for a poem on capitalism. A nonsensical jumble of words and noises that were no doubt created from some chance method, the stark line ‘this is a poem about funding’ gets a good laugh. After all, this stream of gibberish reflects some of the more absurd realities of the arts scene today.
The absurdity continues in (Di)vision as Maria Lothe and Rachel Blomberg start unpacking cardboard boxes and rearranging the room. Throughout the piece they fight, copy and control one another, constantly rearranging boxes as they go. At times they are funny, at others moving. The work climaxes as Lothe builds a tower, which she knocks to the ground in one powerful charge: a moment of profound satisfaction that leaves the work lingering and energised.
Hannah Parsons appears once again as musician in K(no)w, the second piece by Lorea Burge. Parsons strums unassumingly melodies on guitar as Burge and Mathilde Lepage Begatta rearrange themselves, falling and rising with increasing determination, deliberate with the placing of each limb. It’s hard to know who’s really in control; nothing is predictable, yet even as they fall there’s a sense of composure. They escape and return to the floor habitually, exuding a strange calm that permeates the room throughout the work, and remains once the music has faded.
You Were Born to Win quickly replaces this calm for competition, through the game of Ludo (remember that?). A variety of competitive stereotypes appear throughout this solo including Rachel Blomberg’s shouts for the applause to be played, a slow-mo moment of face contorting in a victory scene we’ve seen many times before, and a motivational speech that could be lifted from any sports team movie. None of these stereotypes feel tired however, Blomberg approaches them from fresh angles, and the ludo analogy works well in its obscurity-yet-recognisability. The whole time she carries the air of self-confidence bordering on arrogance that can so easily arise in competition, and provides a varied and entertaining examination on the topic as a whole.
The evening culminated in a group improvisation, initially called Title TBC but, after opening up to audience suggestion, the title becomes confirmed as what I can only describe as someone with a bad cough (to whoever suggested this, it makes my job as critic much harder, but I forgive you). It’s difficult to describe an improvisation, it is different every time after all, so let’s talk about the collective. They are obviously comfortable with each other and and the task. Everyone on stage listens to each other, there’s a myriad of things to see, sparks of connection flash and melt away, abstract moments become surreal and delightfully funny. Additionally, the musician, Ben Brown is also a wonderful performer beyond his instruments. He improvises with just as much confidence and curiosity as the dancers, and he carries strong presence in his exploration. Like the whole night itself, the work is unusual and undeniable, and is an exciting beginning point for Backspace Collective.
This entry was originally posted over at BELLYFLOP Magazine, check them out!
Typically January is all about beginnings: new year, new start, new you. But as February has rolled around I’ve been thinking a whole lot more about endings. Resolution! 2015 has been running at The Place since 8 January and, after reviewing several performances, I recently found myself holding my ticket for my final night of this year. How fitting that the last piece of the night was about the end of the world.
The ‘Danse Macabre’ is not a new concept, and I’m guessing that’s because endings are not a new concept either. They are inevitable, and these dances serve well to remind us of the temporal nature of just about everything in life. James Morgan’s Dance for the End of the World was a bizarre, comic ritual in its own unique way; a dance of death for the end of the world but also for the innumerable micro-endings we encounter in our lives. As Morgan replayed varying conclusions – the end of the race, the one we all saw coming, the preview for the sequel – I found myself remembering things that have ended in my life and how I’ve felt about it. He gathered reluctant audience members to ‘finish the party with us’, but it didn’t feel like the happiest of parties. I wondered how often I have been the party pooper at my own closing ceremonies.
Life is comprised of endings. One door closes, another opens, that’s what they say, right? But sometimes that’s hard to keep in mind; it’s often far easier to spend the majority of our time fixating on what we’re leaving behind. This makes sense. What’s coming next often isn’t very clear: it might be hard, and we’ll probably feel unequipped and under skilled in this new place. It would be far easier to stay in the comfort zone we are used to, but it wouldn’t be all that useful. Challenges and complications can encourage creative thinking, collaboration and communication, and these are only found at the end of the comfortable. I’ve often done my best work in a situation that I have been forced into, in a context that I can’t escape because I’ve moved on from my previous job, school or co-workers.
I’m a month late to the resolution club, but this February I am resolving to start celebrating my endings, welcome or not. One phase of my life may be over, but I can be glad that I experienced it in the first place. My time at Resolution! is finished, my life as a student won’t last much longer. But whatever I do next, at some point I will know how to do that well too. As new things begin, I will be pushed further and stretched harder. I’ll become frustrated, confused, even angry, but I’ll also become better. As an artist and an individual. It is the finality of something ending that forces us fully into the next stage, the lack of place to return to that forces us to adapt and grow, and for that I will always thank the closing door as it pushes me forward.
At the end of his piece James collected the miscellaneous items that had been gathered up on stage, almost as if he was clearing up at the end of a party. In this reality the world ended not with a catastrophic bang but quietly, with care and a glimmer of hope. The Earth was going; perhaps it would be replaced by something better. And perhaps we would become something better too.
In Macbeth Nina von der Werth creates an intelligent meta-performance as she condenses Shakespeare. The lines are drawn between onstage and off: onstage the dancers are immersed in the story; offstage they frantically navigate their disorganized dressing room. Michael Shearer’s ominous score contrasts jarringly with the performers smiles once they leave the stage, but this disjointedness adds to the story of Macbeth itself, as reality and identity become unhinged. The performers strengths all find moments to shine in this piece, and the final result combines strong execution with an interesting insight into what happens behind the curtain.
Like a puppet with no strings, Justyna Janiszewska emerges jerkingly from darkness. The stage is bare, but her presence floods the space. Transcience is a collage of many ideas, and Janiszewska moves effortlessly through them, retaining a sense of calm throughout the chaos. Like a playing child she is lost in a world of her own imagining; backed my melodic strums of guitar she moves between serious and silly but always keeps the balance just right. It feels like this is less of a solo and more of a duet with herself, and there is something distinctively wonderful in watching her strange world unfold.
In Samba and Tears news invades the theatre, from the serious to the ’50 shades of grey’ reviews. The urgent pulse of the BBC News theme and clamouring voices accompanies Sivan Rubinstein’s choreography; one moment Clinton denies his affair, the next Churchill rallies the country. The dancers move with consistent strength and ease, whilst the sound design exposes the scope of history and the repetitiveness of conflict. This combination begs the question, is there more bad news or more means to convey it? The piece ends with a non-committal weather report. ‘It won’t be very windy, but there’ll be lots of breezes’. Perhaps there never is a straight answer.
Tucked away in Hoxton Square sits KK Outlet, a communications agency/bookshop/gallery hybrid in typical East London fashion. Inside we find Doll House, the first solo show from self-appointed ‘professional doodler’ Hattie Stewart.
Pop Art meets graffiti in Stewart’s psychedelic yet satirical world. In her ‘doodle bombings’ the covers of popular magazines are adorned with quirky characters; a myriad of bright colour scattered with cartoon eyes, hearts and flowers. The real and virtual clash as cartoon yellow faces boldly stick their tongues out, a Miley Cyrus emoji if you ever did see one. Stewarts visual vocabulary overpowers the usual means of communication, a sense heightened in her holographic prints. From one angle Kim Kardashian attempts to break the internet on the cover of Paper Magazine. Move and a crowd of doodles appear, cartoons streaming from Kim’s infamous butt itself. This cheeky examination of fame and image is as aesthetically interesting as it is important.
We go beyond image in the ‘Sisters of Anarchy’ series: designs painted onto vintage leather jackets, reclaiming the inner power and potential of ladies to be just like any male biker gang. Here women are strong, striking and united by their own bonds. The mix of classic style, unique motifs and important subtext is enough to remind every woman how badass she can be.
In addition to Stewart’s more formal displays there is also some striking wallpaper, proving that these designs take on a life of their own. There’s no constrictions of form in this show, and this sense of freedom permeated with witty irony heightens the fun of the whole thing. Spreading across multiple mediums, it feels like this is only the beginning for these brazen, carefree characters and the world they inhabit. It’s hard to guess where they’ll turn up next, but you certainly want to be there to see it.
How uncomfortable theatre can provoke change
In London the Royal Court is the theatre for new writers. It is known for producing work that is experimental and challenging. It is here that first-time writer Diana Nneka Atuona’s play ‘Liberian Girl’ has been running, and it is here that I learned the importance of stepping out of my comfort zone as an audience member.
If you’re like me, you probably don’t know that much about Liberia. In fact, the prominent thing that comes to mind is the barrage of Ebola stories that has flooded our newsfeeds over the past few months. It turns out there’s a lot more to this country than meets the eye, and Atuona makes sure that we know it. Liberia has been ravaged by two civil wars between 1989 and 2003, Liberian girl takes place within the first, from 1989-1996.
In the beginning, everything seems innocent enough. We enter a fairly small room: there are crickets chirping, foliage on the walls and red sand beneath our feet. A young girl, Martha, lies on the ground, reading by candlelight as we enter. This is an immersive production; instead of stage and seats we are in the space together, within touching distance of the characters. With a rumble multiple radios crackle to life with the sounds of children singing, Martha and her grandmother Mamie Esther talk. It’s calm and domestic.
It doesn’t last.
This fairly cosy experience is quickly destroyed as a group of men appear, pointing guns, screaming and swearing merely inches from our faces. From here on in Atuona does not hold back. Martha, disguised as a boy for protection, is forced into becoming a child soldier. We see the beatings, rape and murder she must partake in to remain unnoticed. Nothing is hidden from sight. Whilst evil and bloodlust is rife we are also reminded, through tiny glimpses of conversation, that mostly these characters are children too, just trying to survive. Searching for a way out.
It sounds atrocious, but this makes Liberian Girl vitally important. What it teaches is a lesson on western attitudes. Having ‘rebels’ scream at you with hatred in their eyes is not only a testament to an impeccable cast, it is more importantly a resistance to ignoring reality. Audience members cower as far from sight as possible, hoping not to be noticed. And yet, this isn’t real. We know that these people are actors, and when the lights go down they will return to being normal people with normal lives. When an hour and half has passed we will walk out of the theatre and return to our comfortable existences. However, this isn’t the case for scores of people across the world. This is their everyday experience, and the stakes are much higher.
Whilst Liberian Girl focuses on a civil war that has since ended, its deeper themes ring true of the multiple conflicts raging on today. There are several moments when we aren’t given all the information. We don’t know the background and intricacies of this conflict, we don’t know what happens to several characters, at one point we are plunged into blackout without being told why. Liberian Girl in many ways is a truer representation, simulated snapshots of common experience. It doesn’t give us a neatly packaged story with beginning, middle and end. It throws us in at the deep end and expects us to swim, just as war does to those who end up caught in the middle of it.
This play is a call to arms, a fight against desensitization. Only by recognizing the reality of the situations can we begin to change them. By acknowledging their complexity, understanding the grey areas and accepting the lack of simple good and bad sides. Only through recognizing these things can we understand and try to seek feasible solutions. As an audience member, to only see things that make us feel comfortable is to shirk our responsibility as inhabitants of the same world, to ignore everything outside of the easy bubble of our own lives. It is a stark reminder of the importance of making ourselves uncomfortable, of educating ourselves, and not ignoring the truth, so that we may give ourselves the power to become an active part of the solution.
Where: artFix, Soho, London
When: Friday January 30th 2015
An original installation and performance devised by choreographer Beatrix Joyce, Today is the Day provides a much-needed refuge from the bustling streets of Friday night Soho.
Leaving neon signs and shouting voices behind, we enter a blank world filled with white space, white noise and white paper, the latter crumpled and dirtied by the feet of those who’ve passed through before us. At one end a pile of televisions are heaped: lines of language spill over the top of each other on their screens, becoming nonsense. At the other a video alternates between stream-of-consciousness anecdotes and high speed video of rehearsals, giving the feeling of time compressed and losing shape. There is a typewriter in the space that the audience may use to voice their thoughts, the noise of tapping keys mingling with recorded discussions on boredom and routines. Amidst all of this we find performer Ian McCarthy, still in the eye of a storm of deconstruction.
The performance is simple and introspective, as he interacts noiselessly with viewers and moves through states of apathy and bursts of choreography, echoing his daily routine. The movement itself is minimal but charged, often drawn from the formal exercises of a dance class. This is unsurprising as Ian is in his final year of dance school, but gives the work extra depth in its emphasis on the all-consuming nature of dance training. What stands out most is the moments of stillness punctuating these frantic motifs, captured glimpses of humanity and wandering thought we can all relate to in our daily lives. There is something inherently calming about watching Ian’s choices play out before us, something cathartic about accepting the reality of boredom in life. In her exploration of the novel, Beatrix’s success is in her ability to abstract and reshape ideas from James Joyce’s Ulysses into something tangible that we not only witness, but become part of.
Where: Clapham Omnibus (Infancy, History and the Avant-Garde festival)
When: Saturday January 24th 2015
Four-Second Decay, Humpty Agonistes: After the Smash
Armed with an overhead projector, the authoritative voice of one man is backed by a cacophony of female echoes and children’s instruments. We embark on the story of Humpty Dumpty with an existentialist twist, featuring anecdotes on communism, identity crises and the Berlin Wall. The whole thing feels like an intellectual school presentation gone haywire: a twisted lecture demonstration that subverts expectation, most evident in the multiple times when the projector, wheels groaning with exertion, is wheeled to shine blindingly into the eyes of the audience. ‘Not so voyeuristic this time!’ it seems to say. The work is chaotic at the best of times, but this chaos, clashing against smart language and deadpan narration makes the whole thing charmingly compelling.
Ollie Evans, Solid Tantrum in a Plural Infantocracy
This work seems to be a solo mission to deconstruct, reconstruct and ultimately, self destruct. Autobiographical in the loosest sense of the word, we witness a mishmash of innumerable elements descend into anarchy. It would be impossible to accurately record the experience, instead I will discuss my personal highlight. Evans runs through the audience, handing out loaded water guns ‘for our own protection’ whilst he wraps himself in an Israeli flag and serenades a can of coca cola. It’s a poignant motif of violence, capitalism and western interference in the middle east; subtle enough to challenge without alienating. Soon after this moment of clarity, all hell breaks loose once more. By the end we’re blowing bubbles, popping balloons, shouting, and squirting water guns at each other. In his performance of destruction, we start to do the same, and I find myself wondering, how advanced are we really?
Jeremy Hardingham, HMM…Life in Excrements
Spurting nonsense and wielding an axe, it’s hard to know what to make of Jeremy Hardingham. He alternates between educated man and primal beast, constantly shifting between wit, sarcasm, throwaway observations and mania. As a child were you ever stuck in a classroom with an unhinged teacher, constantly on edge, wondering what will happen next? That’s how the whole performance feels. But, in the midst of this, it’s devilishly funny. Like a car crash, you just can’t look away. Audience tension is soothed by interjections of pun, poetry and passion, and the murkiness of intention serves to highlights the instances when stunning rhetoric makes an appearance. The piece is a wild ride, and all the better for it.
Where: The Place, London (Resolution! Festival)
When: Tuesday January 20th
Exim Dance Company’s Desiderium begins powerfully. Dancer Laura Pendle traverses a narrow corridor of light, over the hands of fellow performers, while the echoes of a far-off choir reverberate across stage. It’s haunting with a sense of ‘otherness’, almost ominous. The rest of Olivia Lockwood’s choreography doesn’t quite live up to these first moments however. The dancers excel in the moments of precise gesture, but often it feels as though movement isn’t fulfilled to its total potential. Commanding moments appear periodically, but emerge only for an instant before disappearing again.
Jack Stinton’s Theory flits between musings on love and existential wondering; ‘maybe… we exist’, Chris Brinklow states blankly as Claire Burrell towers above him. There’s something distinctly enjoyable about watching these two dance, the more I see the more likeable they become. Their fluidity and shared chemistry is undeniable. However this is often broken by the interventions of another voice through the sound system, offering its clichéd views on love in an almost dictatorial way. The dancers are good enough to ignore it, but next time hopefully they’ll be left to speak for themselves.
Love Me Tender brings a raw world of sensitivity and desire to life. Flowers are strewn across the stage as the obsessive Rosie Terry breathlessly struggles to bend Joachim Maudet’s limp body to her will, chattering incessantly, perhaps bordering on mania. It’s impossible not to relate to this exaggerated and hilarious embodiment of unrequited love. When we finally see hints of reciprocation, Maudet lip-syncs to Elvis Presley’sOnly You as the pair strip down to the underwear. It’s funny, but refreshingly tender too. This feeling permeates the rest of the choreography as the dancers explore each other, and the sincerity of their performance makes them captivating to watch. Effortlessly charming from start to finish, Léa Tirabasso’s work is a delight to behold.
Where: The Place, London
When: January 15 2015
It’s always refreshing when choreographers master comedy, and Yann Allsop’s Vote for Me! Certainly did. Allsopp and dancer Jess Williams are Colin and Sheila, your local MPs reading to stop talking and start dancing for our votes. This piece combines physical comedy, strong characterization and witty rhetoric to highlight not only the constructed facades politicians hide behind but also the farcical nature of political campaigning itself.
Our MPs seem torn in multiple directions; attempting to bicker without being noticed, worrying about the lighting exceeding the budget, or whether the young voters believe they’ll do what they’ve promised? The collage of scenarios effectively hints at the complex nature of politics, public speaking and personality cults. Colin doesn’t last long before he resorts to speeches once more: ‘There’s only so much you can say through dance’, hinting at a desperation to be believed, to be trusted, to be liked. It works so well to show that whilst he does a lot of talking, he’s not really saying anything at all, and he knows it.
The seriousness with which the performers approach their absurd charade makes it both more poignant and wildly hilarious. A timely, tongue-in-cheek social commentary, Allsopp’s voice also works to clearly reveal a disenfranchised, politically alienated generation that needs to be represented. I hope to see this piece resurface elsewhere as the general election approaches.