I am delighted to have joined the team of dance writers at Bachtrack.com. Here is my first review.
“Choreographer Russell Maliphant and lighting designer Michael Hulls could just as easily be thought of as innovators or architects. Conceal | Reveal at Sadler’s Wells tells the story of their creative partnership spanning 20 years. Together they have forged new choreographic terrain, a topography of movement and light.
“Can anyone help me find my A? I don’t feel balanced without it.”
…And that hot, thumping feeling behind the eyes as tears threaten my carefully constructed “dance critic” demeanour.
Aakash Odedra struggles amid a swirling pool of paper, desperately searching for the letter A, the second A to be precise. The A in his name he didn’t recognise for 21 years because Odedra is dyslexic.
Choreographed by Odedra and Lewis Major, Murmur 2.0 is a stunning, multi-media exploration of dyslexia. The solo is a new, expanded production of an earlier work on the same theme. Five white drapes hang in the centre of space. A flock of animated birds dance across the canvas, swooping and turning in response to Odedra’s movements. As he touches the material, blue shapes appear, they fizz and crackle before melting away.
Odedra is a gentle, almost transcendent, presence on stage and utterly mesmerising to watch. He is earthed, energy ripples up through his body from the soles of his feet and he moves with incredible speed and delicacy. Odedra is a shape-shifter; moving seamlessly between dance styles and traditions. His body takes on a liquid form. Like water he slips through your fingers, appearing to be solid whilst simultaneously evaporating. Gestures tumble out of Odedra in waves like words on a page. He gives each movement breath and releases it perfectly formed.
The use of technology in Murmur 2.0 is extensive but perfectly balanced. It doesn’t overwhelm Odedra, it intensifies his performance and crucially it shapes – rather than decorates – the narrative. Throughout the piece Odedra appears in control of visuals, as if they are figments of his imagination – a language of his own making.
In an undulating pool of light, Odedra’s feet snap against the floor. Drawing on his Kathak training, the rhythmic footwork accompanies a soaring female vocal. His arms and torso echo the velvety lyricism of Nicki Wells’ score in stark contrast to the rapid patter of his feet.
“How long does it take to correct a mistake?” asks Odedra.
Dyslexia is a disability, but it doesn’t have to be a limitation. For people with dyslexia, creativity isn’t a choice or a luxury it’s a survival mechanism. They duck and dive around language, constantly picking their way through a jumble of vowels and consonants, and redrawing linguistic pathways. These daily negotiations are invisible to those for whom letters and numbers fall neatly into line. In collaboration with Ars Electronica Futurelab, Odedra and Major bring this vividly to life: the frustrations, the anxieties, but also the infinite possibilities. Murmur 2.0 is achingly beautiful. Naunced, poignant, but never preachy. This is spellbinding piece of narrative dance; deeply felt and exquisitely portrayed.
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.
“With little warning, laughter rips through the performers’ bodies. It splutters and vomits out of their limbs, climaxing in a mosh pit of throbbing arms and torsos. They cackle, bark and squawk, fragments of laughter are tossed between the dancers and hurled at the audience.”
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.
“New English Ballet Theatre offers a unique platform for emerging dancers and choreographers to hone their craft and mature as performers in a professional setting. Watching the company for the first time, I’m sold on the vision and impressed with the breadth of creative opportunities that Artistic Director Karen Pilkington-Miksa is giving her young artists. It’s a project which looks set to go from strength to strength.”
InTRANSIT Festival of Art Chelsea Arts CollectiveParadise on Earth: Give and Take Sunken Garden, Sutton Dwellings, London SW3 Sunday 28th June 2015
“And I think to myself, what a wonderful world” sings Donald Hutera, co-curator of Paradise on Earth: Give and Take. Nestled in Sutton Dwellings – a social housing project in Chelsea, West London – the Sunken Garden, provides a small but perfectly formed performance space where artists and visitors mingle freely. Sunshine winks through the leaves of the trees and I feel like I’ve stumbled into a treasure trove brimming with humanity and creativity.
I came to watch. Ready with my notebook and pen I planned to write down my considered observations, but after a few minutes I’m itching to join in and I’ve stuffed my dance critic paraphernalia back into my bulging handbag. It is a bit like falling down the proverbial rabbit hole, I find myself hula-hooping (badly) with Mil Vukovic, being serenaded by Gordon Raeburn on his harmonica and Nicholas Minns reads poetry to me, whilst sitting on the knee of another audience member.
Together with Lilia Pegado, Hutera creates a rainbow utopia; a snapshot of what happiness might look like in the here and now. Resplendent in a red satin corset, Hutera is the ring master guiding the performers through a series of task-based improvisations. Running through Paradise is a warm hearted inclusivity. The creative contributions of professional and non-professional performers are treated with equal respect and enthusiasm. I’m a kid in a sweet shop, but standout moments include a tender intergenerational duet danced by Riccardo Attanasio and Andrew Downes. The ebb and flow of their shared physicality whispers gently in the breeze and Kali Chandrasegaram’s majestic solo captivates my imagination with his cut glass gestures and improvised accompaniment by Miriam Gould.
After two hours, we’ve bonded over spontaneous silliness and shared creative endeavours. Residents are coming out of their flats to get a closer look at the brightly-coloured menagerie of artists occupying their garden. I walk back to my car past the grand apartments, posh shops and eateries decorating West London’s elite SW3 postcode. The trappings of money-can-buy luxury jars uncomfortably with my free-to-all encounter with Paradise. I feel consumed by warm, fuzzy feelings of contentment and connectedness, and – yes – I do think to myself, what a wonderful world.