Review: Smack That (a conversation)

I went to a party last night. Bev’s party. I was greeted by Bev – a bevy of Bevs actually. Shimmering in matching grey dresses and wigs, they fizzed with anticipation and excitable banter erupted round the room like bubbles escaping from a bottle of Prosecco. I found out I was a Bev too. “Brogue Bev” – named after my stylist choice of footwear. I sat between “Dungaree Bev” and “Proper lager Bev”.

Choreographer Rhiannon Faith uses the intimacy of a party and a multiplicity of Beverlys to tell real-life stories of domestic abuse. Awash with party games and quick fire wit, a sense of conviviality ripples through the small audience. Smack That (a conversation) is co-created by women who have experienced abuse or violence. Faith extends that partnership to the audience, inviting us to participate in the performance.

Silly games burrow into darker seams. The Bevs slowly reveal their experiences of abusive partners. We’re led by words and coaxed by small gestures. Where vowels and consonants fall away, movement takes up the heavy lifting. The dancers topple over, as if they are being sucked into the floor. In a dirty battle with gravity they wrestle with an invisible enemy. One Bev has her face repeatedly smashed into a cake, a chilling echo of a forced sex act.

The Bevs are bawdry and rambunctious. They are silly and sassy, bursting balloons between their thighs and gyrating with each other on the dance floor. Faith’s gift is showing these women as whole individuals, eschewing the stereotypes of hollow victims or steely survivors. We can’t hold their experience at arms length or turn away from their anger. For some Bevs in the audience there is a the glimmer of recognition and an offer of support. At every performance there is a chill out space and a qualified therapist to talk to. Smack That is touring the UK until June. All the participating arts venues are J9 centres, where victims of domestic abuse can access a full support system.

Smack That is deeply uncomfortable theatre and this is a good thing. It’s a gut wrenching experience, but etched out of solidarity, compassion and a fierce desire for change.


Elefeet Dance Festival: Mad Meg

19th November 2016

Blue Elephant Theatre, Camberwell


A cold wintry night is the perfect backdrop to MAZPOD’s new show Mad Meg – a fitting finale to this year’s Elefeet Dance Festival. Meg is a twitching, itching chatterbox. Full of ideas that no-one wants to hear, a burden to her father, farmed out to widowed neighbour.

Phoebe Douthwaite and Marianne Tuckman share the roles of narrator, Meg and her grizzly husband. Their interplay is supple and elastic; growing Meg’s character by shifting her persona between them, contrasting her “madness” with her vulnerability. In the same vein, the choreography ricochets between tenderness and violence. They curl up together cradling each other’s heads and in a striking final sequence, Tuckman – playing Meg – throws herself repeatedly at Douthwaite before ending crumpled on the floor.


Music performed by Laurence Marshall encapsulates the mood of the performance. His accordion breaths in and out, its reedy sound embellishing the spoken word. Flatfoot dancing punctuates the rhythm of speech and falls into conversation with Marshall‘s sweeping melodies.

The pace and tone is darkly upbeat. Beer swilling, belching humour runs alongside a murky tale of abuse. In the cosy upstairs bar, Marshall delights the audience with a pre-show gig – an old-style one man band, complete with bangs and whistles.

Mad Meg is well-rounded piece of story telling. MAZPOD’s production is attention grabbing and soulful. It’s a playful, irreverent mash-up of the vernacular and the theatrical. An engaging first offering from a company I hope to see more of.



Thursday 13th October 2016

Blue Elephant Theatre, Camberwell, London

SIGNS Monica Nicolaides

The Blue Elephant theatre launches this year’s brilliantly-named Elefeet Dance Festival with SIGNS by Monica Nicolaides. Tucked away in Camberwell, the Blue Elephant has firmly established itself as a venue for new dance, working with choreographers to nurture ideas through regular scratch nights and performance opportunities.

In this vein, Nicolaides presents SIGNS as a work in progress. A duet between dancers Laura Heywood and Erena Bordon Sanchez explores British sign language (BSL) and contemporary dance. Inspired by Colin Thompson‘s poem “If I told you I was deaf would you turn away”, it tells a story of thwarted communication, a stylised glimpse of the barriers experienced by a deaf person trying to navigate everyday relationships in a hearing world.

Heywood and Sanchez perform tightly woven choreography with technical assurance. They create a dynamic that captures the fermenting tension when good intentions slip between the cracks of misunderstanding.


Nicolaides uses Heywood and Sanchez with a nuanced calligraphy, fostering a intricate clarity between the two languages. She could afford to live a little more dangerously, exploiting the fractures between these vocabularies. Here, she may find a deeper resonance between the guts of the movement and the emotional commentary she is seeking to bring to life.

SIGNS has the potential to be a fierce of physical theatre, but Nicolaides has to step out of her comfort zone, pushing past an academic dissection of co-existing lexicons and, instead, sinking her teeth into the simmering frustration of Thompson’s poem.

LCP Dance Theatre

Blue Elephant Theatre

Saturday 8th August 2015

LCP Dance Theatre

Joanna Puchala I Am

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.

Choreographer and dancer: Joanna Puchala
Choreographer and dancer: Joanna Puchala

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.

Philippa Newis


For more information about human trafficking and work supporting survivors, visit the Sophie Hayes Foundation.

GOlive Festival 2015

GOlive  Festival 2015

Burton Taylor Studio, Oxford Playhouse

18 July 2015

Susan Kempster My Own Private Movie

Drishti Dance QuickSilver and Silent Melody

Susie Crow Shades of Tisiphone

Marie-Louise Crawley Myrrha

Sue Lewis/Ffin Dance Fascination

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.

Philippa Newis


New English Ballet Theatre

“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.”

You can read the full review here:

Reflections on Paradise

InTRANSIT Festival of Art                                                                                                                       Chelsea Arts Collective Paradise 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.

Donald Hutera, co-curator of Paradise on Earth: Give and Take
Donald Hutera, co-curator of Paradise on Earth: Give and Take

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.

Nicholas Minns reading poetry

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.

Kali Chandrasegaram
Kali Chandrasegaram
Riccardo Attanasio and Andrew Downes
Riccardo Attanasio and Andrew Downes

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.

Philippa Newis

Paradise on Earth: Give and Take was presented by Chelsea Arts Collective and is part of the ninth InTRANSIT Festival of Arts.

Photo credits: Paolo Coruzzi. Contact:

Ignition Dance Festival 2015

“Choreographer Patricia Okenwa explores the quiet despair of a disintegrating love affair in II.Void. Dancers Estela Merlos and Stefano Rosato hold each other at arm’s length. Rosato strokes his head along her arm, but Merlos evaporates at his touch. Rosato trances the circumference of her absence, a space he now has to fill without her. As their duet ebbs and flows, they attempt to re-connect with a happier past but are confronted by the creeping loneliness of a passion gone cold.”

Read the full review here:


Dancers: Estela Merlos and Stefano Rosato in II.Void choreographed by Patricia Okenwa. Photographer: Gigi Giannella



“Charmatz’s project is a creative interruption to business as usual in London’s flagship gallery of modern art and is beautifully curated to re-create and remember dance. There’s an edge to it, an undercurrent of unpredictability and a hint of revolution. In my imagining, anarchic creativity is unleashed from the Tate and waves of dancing people ripple contagiously through the streets of London. Bring it on!”

For my full review, check out London Dance: