Dance: Tanja Råman + Dbini Industries/Darren Ellis/Douglas Thorpe, The Place, 29 April

Madchester, orbital parties and the Second Summer of Love may be distant memories for some of us, but the glowstick culture was alive and well at the Robin Howard Theatre tonight. Whether it was the bright white lights attached to various parts of Tanja Råman’s body, or the whirling orange-lit drumsticks of Darren Ellis, there was something about this programme that made me want to head to the nearest warehouse wearing a funny hat and rave until dawn.

Dance3 is a new national tour of short works by emerging artists, sending a total of nine pieces to venues around the UK in a triple-bill format. Tonight brought us two solos, one ensemble work, and a lot of video trickery. The bill kicks off with Tanja Råman’s [Re]Traces, combining a live solo performance with motion-capture and video projection. The piece plays with ideas of visibility and obscurity; Råman’s body is at first only dimly visible, the lights worn on each hand and one ankle marking out the traces of her body in space, which are then frozen on the gauze in video form. As she shifts and slides around the stage, the dancer is at first revealed by the sidelights, and then gradually erased by the image of her light traces projected onto the gauze.

Råman has a supple, articulate body and a serene stage presence, but [Re]Traces runs rapidly out of ideas, the dancer repeating (occasionally backwards) the same looping phrases over and over again. Had this been ten minutes shorter it might have been quite a diverting little piece, but the more Råman wipes herself on and off the giant gauze screen, the more you wish she’d just make her mind up about whether to stay or go.

Darren Ellis’s drumsticks enter stage right, twirling like fireflies in the orange glow. As in the first piece, the dancer remains invisible for the first section and lets the sticks do the dancing. Once the lights are up, Ellis dons a natty military jacket and marches in a circle, feet stomping on the stage as his sticks pound an invisible drum. In Sticks and Bones, a disembodied voice takes the performer through a series of percussion drills that grow increasingly unlike drumming, the drumstick beating on the back of the dancer’s head as his arms flail wildly through space. The subject-matter is played for laughs but doesn’t always hit home: a joke about holding the stick near the crotch goes down like a lead bongo. It’s a shame, because Ellis doesn’t need cheap laughs – Sticks and Bones is an energetic work of precision co-ordination and genuine charm.

There’s a deal more gravity to Douglas Thorpe’s A Mind As Beautiful, in both senses. The piece sensitively takes on the difficult subject of schizophrenia, and a great deal of the movement material involves the dancers giving in suddenly to an irresistible force weighing them down. Thorpe’s four female performers are all excellent, grasping at themselves and pulling tortured limbs up at strange angles, their bodies hemmed in by a sofa, a wall and a seemingly inescapable box of light on the stage floor. Again and again the women throw themselves to the floor, run into a wall that won’t budge, and pull at their garments, until one by one they leave the stage in a state of bleak desolation. It’s not a joyful piece, by any means, but it’s certainly an arresting one.

Dance3 tours nationally until 29 May

Originally posted at www.londondance.com

News: Frank Dobson speaks to us about his time as an MP

Frank Dobson, London’s longest-serving MP, has represented Holborn and St Pancras since 1979. Here, he tells us about his role over the last three decades and his priorities for the future.

Mr Dobson says the most important aspect of a local MP’s role is “to represent the interests and concerns of the people in the constituency,” but to recognise that sometimes differing interests clash. It’s important, says Dobson, “to honestly say to people you disagree with, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t agree with you’ – otherwise you end up in a real mess.”

Housing is a key local priority for Dobson – “A child can’t have a decent start in life unless they have a decent home to go to,” he says. In his days as leader of Camden Council, Dobson was instrumental in the council’s purchase of Lissenden Gardens to prevent the majority of local housing from being taken over by private landlords.

Since entering politics in 1971, Dobson says one of the biggest changes he has seen is a “greater degree of inidividualism – some of it has got to the stage where it’s, ‘I’m fine, pull up the ladder’, which I don’t think is a good attitude to have from the point of view of a decent society.”

Having lived and worked in the area for many years, Dobson finds Highgate “a very pleasant place to set eyes on” and enjoys its “villagey atmosphere”. He also feels it’s a good thing that people in Highgate, of all political persuasions, have been keen to work together to further the interests of Highgate.

As a former Secretary of State for Health, Dobson is adamant that the rebuilt A&E at the Whittington that his Health Department invested in heavily during the 1990s should not be closed: “I’m damned if I’m going to go along with the idea of closing it, becase it’s a crazy idea – if only from the point of view of the cost.” Mr Dobson has words of hope for the Whittington campaigners however: Health Minister Mike O’Brien has said twice in the commons he can’t see any justification for closing the unit.

A passionate supporter of the arts, Mr Dobson believes it’s important to give young people the opportunity to engage with creativity and performance “without dumbing down”. He sympathises with the woes of local people about the current problems on the Northern Line: “I think that the option they’ve come up with isn’t very helpful to the people who depend on the line, and there are better options that the one they’re putting forward.”

His final message for Highgate People? “I am Labour, but I’m not a party poodle. If you’re want somebody with an independent mind but of a left-wing disposition, I’m your man!”

Originally posted at www.highgatepeople.co.uk

Dance: Akram Khan, Gnosis, Sadler’s Wells 26 April

Akram Khan stands before his audience, resplendent in a saffron-yellow angarkha, and tells us, “I think it’s important to be fragile and nervous. It allows you to stay in the moment.” Onstage, of course, Khan appears neither fragile nor nervous – that remarkable body is as strong and supple as ever, the lines as sculpted and the twirling lotus wrists as graceful as they always have been.

Akram

Billed as Khan’s first solo work in four years, Gnosis in fact reveals such sensitive dialogue between Khan and his five gifted musicians that it is much closer to an ensemble work. The musicians – a vocalist, sarod player, cellist, table player and the multi-talented Yoshie Sunahata on taiko drums – remain on stage throughout the piece in the classical style, as much a part of the performance as Khan himself.

The showcase begins with a revisitation of Gauri Sharma Tripathi’s 2001 work Polaroid Feet, Khan prowling towards the audience along a strip of light towards the taiko drums. Back to the audience, his torso and limbs curve fluidly, those mesmerising hands whirling and flicking, feet drumming ever-faster rhythms on the floor with exacting precision. Khan’s technical ability is well attested, but he’s also a magnetic performer, breathing life into every chakkar he turns before stopping on a dime.

Following a musical interlude that celebrates the mellifluous vocals of Khan’s long-time collaborator Faheem Mazhar, Khan returns to perform Pratap Pawar’s Tarana. The performance is elegant yet powerful – for all the grace of his hand and footwork, Khan is a very masculine performer, hitting every posture with vigour and poise despite the punishing speed of the rhythms. The first half closes with an insight into the collaborative nature of Kathak as Khan improvises with each of his musicians in turn. Unplugged feels like part mehfil, part jam-session as tabla, cello, feet and bells bring each other to life.

Inspired by a section from the Mahabharata in which Queen Gandhari blindfolds herself in sympathy with her blind husband, new work Gnosis sets a very different mood. To the scratches of an electronic soundscore, Yoshie Sunahata advances down the stage bearing a long white staff. Lunging low to the stage, the dancer straddles a rectangle of light, her feet planted to the spot as she shifts restlessly from side to side, slicing and pounding the air with her hands. The repeated arm gestures, softly weighted movements and striking box-shaped lighting design are more than a little reminiscent of the work of Russell Maliphant.

As the work unfolds and Khan joins his partner onstage, the abstract develops into the personal. Sunahata’s repeated motions transform into gestures of anguish; the body crumbling, then meeting Khan’s for comfort. The white staff, too, transforms: from a blind woman’s white stick into a crutch, a weapon, and – at one rather dramatic point – a missile flung into the first row of the audience. Khan’s body winds around Sunahata’s, seeking forgiveness as she steps repeatedly over his prone form.

In the final scenes, Sunahata’s haunting vocal tells of grief and desolation at the end of the Mahabharata war. Khan jerks and shudders at the front of the stage, his animal body increasingly out of control until it falls into one final, shattering spasm, shocking the audience into silence before the rapturous applause. Uniting mythological themes with contemporary presentation, and combining the rare talents of world-class dance and musical performers, Gnosis is dramatic dance theatre at its most elevated.

Originally posted at www.londondance.com

Dance: Compagnie dernière minute/Pierre Rigal, Micro, The Gate 15 April

On my way to The Gate theatre in Notting Hill, I passed a busker on the tube playing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing”. I wondered idly if the gig-inspired piece I was about to see might bear any resemblance to the platform performance. It didn’t take much more than a few minutes of guitar amps sprouting human arms and shuffling menacingly downstage to convince me that Phillipe Rigal’s Micro would be a very different beast altogether.

Micro

The Gate is an ideal venue choice for the performance, the tiny auditorium looking exactly like an after-hours club where the kind of indie band to which Rigal’s piece pays homage might play. The audience also look like the sort of people who might frequent such gigs. Young and hip, they don’t look like a typical dance theatre audience at all – perhaps reflecting the fact that Micro couldn’t possibly be described as a typical dance piece. Having said that, it’s rather hard to say what it actually is.

Billing Micro as a “concert performed by pre-musical creatures”, Rigal’s programme note is full of alarming phrases – I never did quite work out what “sonic haemoglobin” was supposed to be – but it’s not all blurb without substance. The four performers resemble the advertised creatures more than humans as they tread the stage bestially, their swaying heads concealed by bass guitars and kick drums. Heads hidden behind drums and cymbals they appear surreally faceless, and at one point a floor tom physically swallows its own player and waddles about the stage with the drummer inside. It all looks like a post-punk indie gig dreamt up by Terry Gilliam during one of his stranger moments.

The performance borrows from puppetry, each of the instruments coming to life in turn, manipulated by an unseen performer; there are also heavy nods to physical theatre, the performers prowling across the stage disguised as guitar-elephants and drum-monsters. There are entertaining moments of fun throughout the show, as when the drummer plays two vocalists, muppet-like, with his mallets and they respond with (mostly) harmonious squeaks. Melanie Chartreux also delights with a thoroughly beguiling impersonation of an android dolly, arms moving stiffly and mechanically but without a trace of clichéd boogaloo. The individual parts, however, never add up to a coherent sum.

As Micro proceeds through its disparate set pieces of oddball theatre, Rigal tries to sneak an actual rock gig into the show by introducing ordinary musical numbers played straight; it is here that the work loses direction and interest. What starts as an experimental work playing with ideas about gigs becomes simply a gig, and a rather mediocre one at that. The four performers are undoubtedly musically talented, Gweanaël Drapeau particularly standing out for his storming drums, but the compositions do nothing for the entertainment value of the piece. Stale, overlong musical numbers pad out the show to a humdrum 90 minutes – editing the show to an hour of the most unusual and playful moments would have made it much more original and interesting.

Micro is not exactly a dance piece, not really a rock gig, and not an altogether successful piece of theatre; but if you can put up with a few dull tracks then the quirkier moments make for an entertaining night out. If you’re looking for tracks by Journey, however, the London Underground might be a better bet.

Micro is showing at The Gate until 8 May.

News: Elections 2010 – Spotlight on Islington North

With elections looming ever closer, we’re taking a closer look at the local parliamentary constituencies. Islington North is one of the four constituencies surrounding Finsbury Park, and voters in Finsbury Park and Tollington wards will be casting their votes here come the general election.

Regarded as a Labour stronghold since the 1930s, Islington North has been represented by Jeremy Corbyn MP since 1983. At 727 hectares, Islington North is the smallest UK Parliamentary constituency by area and covers a population of around 92,000. The seat covers the northern half of the borough of Islington including the areas of Holloway, Highbury, Tufnell Park and Archway as well as the western side of Finsbury Park.

Around half of Islington North’s constituents are either full-time students or graduates, and young professionals make up a good proportion of the voting population. However, just under half of the area’s residents live in social housing and the constituency covers some of the most deprived parts of Islington. Housing is therefore a big local pollitical issue. Landmarks in the area include Emirates Stadium and HMP Holloway.

A former councillor in neighbouring Haringey, Corbyn has been elected with at least 50% of the local vote since 1983, receiving a majority of 19,955 votes (69.3%) in the 1997 election. This majority had been cut in recent years, with the Liberal Democrats receiving 29.9% of the vote at the last election.

Mr Corbyn is a member of the Socialist Campaign Group, a supported of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Amnesty International, and a weekly contribuotr to the Morning Star. He is known as something of a party rebel, voting strongly against the government on such matters as the Iraq war, ID cards and the anti-terrorism bill. He has recently been locally visible as a passionate supporter of the Save The Whittington Hospital campaign alongside neighbouring MP Lynne Featherstone.

Liberal Democrat reresentative Rhodri Jamieson-Ball was elected as an Islington Councillor in 2006. Since being elected he has successfully campaigned for new council housing, more flowers and trees in Islington, and extra police on the beat.

The Welsh-born parliamentary candidate moved into Islington 9 years ago when started studying at the School of Oriental and African Studies.Despite Corbyn’s long incumbency, Jamieson-Ball sees the race for the Islington North seat as very close, and with a 10.8% swing from Labour to Lib Dem at the last election he has everything to play for in this year’s contest.

Since 1992, the Conservatives have fallen into a distant third place in parliamentary elections here, picking up only 11.9% of the vote in 2005. New candidate Adrian Berrill-Cox is campaigning for better, more cost effective, services and effective policing of anti-social behaviour. Berrill-Cox has stated he would like to break the “duopoly of Labour and Liberal rule” in Islington, but he’ll have his work cut out for him in this constituency.

Barrister Emma Dixon is the Green Party’s representative in Islington, and is hoping to build on the party’s 7.1% share of the vote at the last election with a platform including both wildlife preservation and the Whittington Hospital campaign. Working at Islington Green ward over the past four years she has helped to introduce free sport for young people, a reuse and recycle scheme for household goods, and allotments for local people to grow their own food. Could this be a Green year for Islington North?

We’ll be hearing more from the individual candidates over the next few weeks as elections draw closer. The UK General Election has not yet been called, but must take place on or before 3 June. Local council elections have already been called for 6 May.

Originally posted at www.finsburyparkpeople.co.uk

Dance: Tanztheater Wuppertal, Kontakthof, Barbican 1 and 2 April

Pina Bausch’s Kontakthof, touring in memorial to the great German choreographer who died last year, is a work of contradictions. It has been called “minimalist”, owing to its drab set and gestural movement language; but it’s also a lively and vital work where something is always happening. The theme of the work (the title simply means a “place of contact”) is intimacy; but much of the piece examines the ways in which intimacy is thwarted, evaded or unwelcome. And the current touring production, set on an older and a younger group of “ordinary” members of Bausch’s Wuppertal community, reveals two casts of extraordinary performers.

Kontakthof
Kontakhof casts

Episodic rather than narrative in structure, Kontakthof is made up a series of minutely-observed representations of the rites of male-female contact. There’s a running theme of parade and display – groups of dancers advance on the audience in a pack, strut and circle the stage together in repeated processions studded with the gestures of human contact: hand-wringing, palm-wiping and hair-smoothing, all performed in precise and ritualistic unison.

Scratchy vinyl recordings of jazzy tangos and waltzes add to the community dancehall ambience, and film buffs will recognise a sung rendition of Anton Karas’s Third Man theme. Each recording accompanies a little scene based on observed gestures – there’s a tango devoted to queuing for the toilet, and another built entirely on two women adjusting their clothing in perfect synchronicity. The dance scenes are playful rather than technical; as with many of the choreographer’s works, Kontakthof’s performance mode owes as much to acting as to dancing, and Bausch herself referred to the piece as a “play” rather than as a dance work.

A key theme of the play is intimacy, or rather the failure of intimacy. The male performers work through a set of mechanical social dance moves without partners, their arms wrapping around an empty space as if the partner herself is incidental. When the women appear in the gaps, the dance continues as automatic as before, some men choosing to leave the dance with their partners remaining. Another repeated sequence features dancers again holding the space around an absent partner in different physical configurations, suggesting that somebody, anybody will do to plug the gap.

Kontakthof also studies the hair-thin line between intimacy and violence, pleasure and pain. A series of couples pinch, slap and tweak one another to the applause of the others. The line between contact for pleasure and contact for harm becomes repeatedly blurred, mutual embraces turning into unwanted advances and the women thrusting the men away with shrieks of horror, only to return for more: one sequence has a column of women heading directly for the men across the room, all the while resisting their eager touches even as they press themselves towards them.

Both casts are fabulous. Among the teenagers, Joy Wonnenburg performs the lead role with angelic charm, and the girl playing vamp “from Paris” has excellent stage presence and a great line in knowing looks. In a sequence where they are rapidly interviewed in turn, all of the teenage performers tell hilarious stories about their romantic misfortunes; the stories of the older cast, often telling of lifelong partnerships, have more of a genial sweetness about them.

The difference between the two sets of performers is present from the opening – the teenagers march up to the front of the stage with the accelerated brashness of youth, where the older cast walk up with the measured, confident strides of experience. The younger cast undoubtedly have stronger and more supple bodies, their timing is sharper and their unison cleaner. The older cast, however, bring a mature energy and presence to the performance and are riotously funny throughout. The woman in pale blue commanding her hapless partner to move his hips with “big, juicy circles” has a fantastic Teutonic authority almost, but not quite, achieved by her younger counterpart.

While discomfiting and awkward, Kontakthof is also frequently very funny. The piece exposes the vanity and self-obsession of youth, letting us eavesdrop on the venomous gossip of two girls at the back of the hall (“Look at that dress! She really looks like something the cat dragged in!”) or satirising the young woman who throws herself from the piano, first screaming “so that nobody will miss it.” It’s here the older performers really come into their own – happily distanced from the youthful egos they are portraying, the cast enter into Bausch’s sharp dissections with gusto. The younger cast are perhaps too close to the subject matter to bring the same satirical reading.

It’s a tribute to the clarity of Bausch’s work that the age of the performers is immaterial to the readability of the choreography – the older cast gadded about the stage with a youthful, frisky energy that made me rapidly forget they were not really the young adults being portrayed. Playfully exposing the rituals that accompany the mating game, and examining our desire for both pain and pleasure, Kontakthof is an utterly engrossing and human work whether performed by teenagers or seniors.

Originally posted at www.londondance.com

News: Libertines reform at secret Highgate gig

Indie noise-merchants The Libertines returned to the stage for the first time since 2004 at Highgate’s Boogaloo last night. The tabloid-bothering rock aesthetes have reformed after a five-year hiatus, ahead of appearances at this summer’s Leeds and Reading festivals.

Libertines

‘Have we enough to keep it together?’ At least for one night in Highgate, it seems so.

Since the band’s dissolution in 2005, frontmen Pete Doherty and Carl Barât have each been engaged with their own musical projects. Barât fronted Dirty Pretty Things until 2008, while Doherty’s work with Babyshambles is ongoing.

A reunion has long been anticipated by fans, with rumours escalating since Barât and Doherty performed together at a tribute gig last May.

The volatile Britpunk popinjays played a set of favourites, including No. 2 hit “Can’t Stand Me Now”, and staged a brief press conference at the pub. Doherty told the conference, “Looking back, we did produce things we are so proud of and we want to get back to that.” The band would not confirm if new material will be produced before the festival season.

Tickets for the Reading festival have sold out, but if you’d like to see the dandy rockers strut on stage this summer, tickets for Leeds are still available.

Originally posted at www.highgatepeople.co.uk