London Contemporary Dance School: Music Collaborations
Yue Ton Kwan/Cameron DoddsFriends Minus Two
Waddah Sinada/Jack SheenOminous
Vincent Jonosson/Mo ZhaoConstellations
Jamie Chapman/Joshua BorinPersonae
Maeve McGreevy/Toby Huelin Another Way of Talking
Music and dance are two sides of the same coin. A melody or a beat sparks an irresistible urge to move; whether to tell a story, push artistic boundaries or to shake one’s tail feathers just for the sheer joy of it.
Choreographer Yue Tong Kwan opens the evening with Friends Minus Two. The dancers contribute their own vocal ticks to Cameron Dodds’ score, giving voice to their physical exertions. Kwan works with a refreshingly light touch, which hints at the absurd, but doesn’t topple over into clowning. Friends MinusTwo is a fine-spun weave of choreography and sound.
Ominous, choreographed by Waddah Sinada, is deftly sinister. Dancers encircle one another, spliced by a series of rapid blackouts. Composer Jack Sheen creates a darkly atmospheric score entirely out of percussion. This is a well-crafted, textured work; with tightly-knit, pacey ensemble sequences and crisp articulation of movement. A strong partnership, Sinada and Sheen create and sustain tension, which leaves my spine tingling.
Dancers and musicians enter the stage together at the start of Constellations. The deep, earthy call of a didgeridoo initiates movement. Performers run in wide circles, meeting briefly to connect and disperse. Lilting arpeggios on the piano and trilling violins echo the restless motion. Mo Zhan’s music and Vincent Jonsson’s choreography work hand in glove. The material is a little thin in places, but the piece finds it own rhythm and integrity.
In contrast to the quiet solidarity in Constellations, Personae opens with four solitary figures in hooded dresses, each isolated in a pool of light. Their long skirts catch the residue of their movements, rippling around their legs. Choreographer Jamie Chapman and composer Joshua Borin evoke a brooding inner struggle. A change in mood, reveals their alter-egos. In jeans and t-shirts, the dancers spill out into the space. With forceful, probing gestures, they appear to escape their confinement and experience the world anew.
Another Way of Talking choreographed by Maeve McGreevy ends the evening. The space trembles with the sonorous sound of two cellos, played by David Råberg-Schrello and Katy Reader. In striking black costumes, a trio of dancers penetrate a sparse musical landscape composed by Toby Huelin. Silence and stillness act as a counterpoint to explosions of musical colour and movement, creating contours of light and shade. Another Way of Talking stands out as the most sophisticated exegesis of music and choreography, but it doesn’t quite land. It feels like five competing monologues, rather than a conversation.
On 9th and 10th December, London Contemporary Dance School and the Wimbledon College of Art and Design present an evening of explorative dance challenging the role of dancer and designer in performance. For information and tickets, click here.
Three strangers collide at a crossroads. Is it a chance encounter or the scheming hand of fate?
Jonathan Caruana, Savina Casarin and Morrighan MacGillivray are the protagonists in Chloe Aliyanni’s Trivialis. It premieres as a full length work at Blue Elephant Theatre; a venue increasingly known for its contemporary dance programming and as a platform for emerging choreographers.
Wary and guarded, the dancers pace across the floor. They turn abruptly dodging one another’s pathways and stubbornly avoid eye contact like skilled London commuters. The energy and momentum builds punctuated with tightly-danced sequences in unison.
Gaia Cicolani and Clelia Vuille are Puck-like and impish creatures. Dressed head to toe in black, they appear and disappear at will, melting into the walls and floor. Locked in an combative embrace, they playfully push and pull each others limbs. Are they the mischievous authors of the collusion that entangles the lives of the central characters?
Stelios Kyriakidis’s score is brooding and imposing. The electric guitar throbs and pulses, enveloping the performers in a dense cocoon of sound. In a duet between Caruana and MacGillivray a single melody weaves its way through the dancers bodies. Caruna dissolves at MacGillivray’s touch. Like a long drawn out breath, their movement takes on a looser, softer quality, dissipating the earlier tension. The final trio brings resolution. Holding hands, Caruna, Casarin and MacGillivray share weight and discover shapes with a common fluidity.
Trivialis is well rehearsed and slickly executed. Aliyanni integrates music, lighting and movement into a comprehensive work. It is bursting with intensity with strong performances but the narrative thread frays as the piece progresses. Trivialis starts with a bang, but struggles to sustain its impact.
The survivors of human trafficking and their road to recovery is the central theme of I Am choreographed by Joanna Puchala. It’s a weighty subject, but Puchala approaches it with bucket loads of creativity. Her keen eye for design and colour punctuates the work. The chairs in early sequences allude to the infamous windows in Amsterdam’s red light district. Brightly-coloured costumes strike a hopeful note. Tunics of sunshine yellow, coral and royal blue ripple with optimism as they ebb and flow with the dancers’ movements.
But it is the unrelenting pace and robust physicality that characterises I am. In the intimate space at the Blue Elephant the energy of dancers is palpable. It pings off the walls and pushes its way into the audience. There is the odd fumble during more complex lifts and counter balances, but the duets and quartets that unfold during the piece gradually unlock a journey of restoration.
Projected onto the back wall, a film by Laura Jean Healey and Michael Clements depicts fleeting human images in black and grey tones. The haunting figures slip in and out of a velvety darkness. But amid the frenzy of colour and movement in the foreground, the visual nuances get lost. Puchala doesn’t give the film an opportunity to breath and its contribution is stifled by the clamour of the choreography.
I Am is well-intentioned, but doesn’t quite hit the mark. The narrative of rehabilitation and renewal gets tangled up in a shopping list of ideas jostling for our attention. It feels overcrowded, with differing concepts bumping up against each other and without a clear sense of direction. There are some gems buried in the busyness, but you have to dig deep to find them.
Jo is a dance-artist based in Pembrokeshire, Wales. After graduating from Northern School of Dance she sidestepped a traditional career path of working in repertoire companies and with established choreographers, instead valuing the autonomy and freedom of working independently. “I’ve created my own rules and boundaries” says Jo. “Up until I graduated I had been going with other people’s ideas about what success in dance was, or what dance was even. I was trying to fit a mould that didn’t suit me and as I soon as I broke out on my own and started choreographing for myself I was able to reshape that mould into whatever I wanted it to be.”
Since 2008 Jo has worked closely the Torch Theatre in Milford Haven. She set up her own company Joon Dance with the aim of bringing high-quality performance closer to local communities. Jo’s natural inclination is to collaborate, choosing to work closely with her dancers and other professionals to create and present work, but her latest piece Herstory marks a departure from tried and tested methods. “I was at a time in my life when I wanted to create a solo and get back into performing.”
Herstory is a finely woven tapestry of spoken word, music and movement capturing the early promise of a love affair and its painful descent to control and abuse. The narrative is partly based on Jo’s own poetry charting the rise and fall of her romantic relationships. “When I was younger” says Jo “I would throw myself wholeheartedly into a relationship so convinced that this guy was ‘the one’ and I would be horribly disappointed when he wasn’t.” From the outset, Jo didn’t want the piece to be only about her experiences. She invited women to submit their stories – both good and bad – via social media.
But one story radically changed the direction of the piece. A friend and a survivor of domestic violence was willing to share her story. “I wish I had set out to make a piece about domestic violence because now I feel it is so important. It’s this message that has made the piece successful. I would have abandoned long ago but I feel like it is a story that needs telling.” Jo’s narrative is skilfully nuanced. Humour is the golden thread that adds warmth and character. This was important for Jo, “I had to hit the nail on the head without ever ranting. I didn’t want to make it about shitty men abusing women”. “Humour immediately relaxes us and open us” Jo points out “People will take a pill when they’ve laughed.”
Jo toured Herstory in the spring and reaction to the work as been consistently positive. “Words that come up all the time are ‘powerful’ and ‘moving’. People say to me ‘that can’t be your story. You are so strong and independent’. But that’s the point, domestic violence happens to strong and independent women.”
Herstory is also a work which has bought Jo face to face with some of her own creative demons. “It was really hard to create a movement language for this work.” Jo is used to working collaboratively with her dancers and working on a solo was an entirely different experience. On her own in the studio, Jo would come up with ideas and instantly reject them. “It was a constant battle to feel OK with the movement.” The choreography remains a movable feast. “It changes with each performance as I keep taking stuff out! I much prefer the improvised sections because I can be in the intention and let the movement flow out of it.” With 16 performances at the Fringe, Jo is looking for ways to keep the piece fresh and raw. “I might try to improvise the whole thing at least once in Edinburgh.”
Jo’s solo marks a turning point in her attitude to herself as a performer. Her training left her with residual doubts over her technical ability. Jo recalls performing Herstory in front of the National Dance Company of Wales, terrified at the prospect of “proper dancers” watching her every move. Their feedback was validating for Jo. “They loved it and thought my movement style was unique.” Coming back to performing has been a gradual process. Jo still views herself primarily as a choreographer, but over time she has, once again, started to perform in her own works. Initially this was because she missed dancing but increasingly it is becoming a creative decision when she feels it is “right for the role”.
Edinburgh Fringe: coming ready or not!
Jo’s first Edinburgh Fringe was in 2009, just a year after graduating. Buoyed by her early success in Pembrokeshire and little bit of funding, Jo rocked up to the festival with a mixed bill of contemporary dance. “That was my first error” recalls Jo. “It was completely mental to take a programme of unrelated works to the festival unless you are a known repertoire company.” Not knowing anything about the Fringe or how to market a show, Jo and her dancers performed in a little-known venue with a split-level stage. Amazingly, they managed to break-even. Jo puts this down to the street shows they put on to promote the show. Against the odds, loud music, silly outfits and crazy stunts pulled in the audiences. But it was a bumpy ride, “one night we were sold out, but on another evening we had to cancel a show because only person turned up.”
“It was bonkers and I did everything wrong” Jo laughs, “but I learnt so much.” Jo promised herself that if she returned to the Fringe she would perform in a venue known for dance, arrive a week early and start promoting her show before the start of the festival. This all sounds like common sense, but it remains incredibly hard to pull off when you are a solo artist on a shoestring budget. However, Jo has been true to her word and this year her Fringe experience looks set to be very different from her first foray into festival when she was fresh from college. “I’m ready now after a few years to sell something I really care about.” Jo will be performing Herstory in a two week run at ZOO – a venue known for dance and physical theatre. It is a demanding solo, both mentally and physically. Jo is ready for this with rigorous plans to prepare herself in the weeks leading up to the Fringe. In the final week before her run, she will be in Edinburgh organising her publicity, networking and taking classes. So much about being a choreographer is like being a business woman muses Jo. The planning, the funding applications and the self-promotion takes up far more time that the creating and performing.
Life after the Fringe
After Edinburgh, Jo is heading Cairo for four months supported by the Artists International Development Fund to train and mentor choreographers and make a dance film exploring modern Egyptian culture. On her return, she hopes to spend six months touring Wales and London with Play the Game; a piece for young audiences Jo created in 2014 with her company Joon Dance. But if Herstory gets attention at the Fringe Jo is open to the possibility of a further tour in 2016. “I’m happy either way” she reflects “I’ve had a great time with Herstory. I’m going to really enjoy showing it in Edinburgh and if it gets picked up I’ll happily jog along and perform. But if it doesn’t I’m ready to move onto something new. I’m quite at peace with that.”
Zosia Jo will be performing Herstory at the Edinburgh Festival, ZOO
We are up close and personal in the Burton Taylor Studio at the Oxford Playhouse. Presenting dance in small space makes fresh demands on performers as well as those of us watching. The proximity of the dancers intensifies the experience. The degree of intimacy is a little unsettling, but we are a friendly crowd and a warm camaraderie fuels goodwill.
Curated by Donald Hutera, GOlive is in its third year. Introducing the programme Hutera is like a kid in a sweet shop and his enthusiasm is infectious. All six works had something new to offer. My Own Private Movie choreographed and performed by Susan Kempster involves some of the audience entering the performance space and engaging in very simple improvisations. Kempster gives us all MP3 players with unique soundtracks. In something akin to my daily commute, my head and my body are in two different places. And perhaps this is Kempster’s point, the delicious contradiction of social media: together and not together, caught between the virtual and the physical but unable to belong wholly to either.
Anuradha Chaturvedi shimmers in QuickSilver. The music ripples through Chaturvedi’s hands and fingers and the sound of her feet snapping at the floor beautifully contrasts the lyricism of her upper body. The blue and gold of Chaturvedi’s dress swirls around her legs as she twists and turns and the undulating curves of her arms are like the wings of birds. Chaturvedi is enchanting. Her eyes twinkle as she dances, bringing to life the nuances in John Thurlow’s musical score.
Inspired by the trio of figures in Picasso paintings, the dancers in Sue Lewis’ piece Fascination eat up the space with ravenous intent. They duck and weave, tumble and expand; bursting forth like the vibrant colours and jutting angles that explode in a Picasso canvas. Lewis plays around with several juicy choreographic ideas, but perhaps too many, as the work loses its way at times. Powerfully danced, it is an exciting and dynamic finale to the evening.
No doubt, Hutera’s curation is eclectic, but GOlive champions the work of dance makers who are rattling the cage of performative norms. I’m left wondering whether Hutera – dance critic for that most traditional broadsheet The Times – is quietly sowing the seeds of a rebellion. Is this the first whispers of a Judson Church-style revolution? Over the last two decades we’ve been riding a wave of elitism in dance. Elitism is not a bad thing, but arguably it has passed its peak and is now narrowing, rather than expanding, the possibilities of the art form. A new era of experimentation in British dance is long overdue and GOlive is emerging as catalyst for change.
GOlive 2015 has toured in London and Oxford and finishes this week at the Chesil Theatre in Winchester on 24th July.
It is dark. Permeating the inky blackness is the sound of breathing; desperate, jagged gasps of air. Somewhere in the space the dancers are moving. Nervousness crackles through the audience, the thumps and bumps of their unseen bodies are unpredictable and unsettling.
Bridging the Void choreographed by Rachel Johnson is an experiential work where the dancers and the audience share the same space. The traditional boundary between viewer and performer is severed and together we share an exploration of darkness and light.
Integral to the experience is a film of the sun rising over Primrose Hill in London. As dawn creeps over the capital’s iconic skyline, dancers (Eleanor Palmer, Elzbieta Kowalik and Clélia Vuille) watch its glowing ascent in stillness. In the space, the same performers course with energy, spluttering and juddering like explosions on the sun’s surface.
It’s the combination of sound (James Welland), film and movement that makes this piece sing. The interplay between the embodied moment and the filmed choreography takes on a mirage-like quality. As the dancers interact with the images, the footage spills into the physical space, teasing apart dimensional boundaries.
Johnson asks a lot of her audience, but we are rewarded for stepping wholeheartedly into her work with an rare intimacy between performers and viewers, and a delicately woven fusion of film, movement and sound.