Dance: Russell Maliphant, “AfterLight”, 28 September

Who knew there were so many ways to spiral the human body? A looping pirouette, swirling arms, an arc of the torso, hips skimming across the floor – there must be hundreds, and in the mesmerising AfterLight Russell Maliphant has captured them all.

Developed from the 2009 solo AfterLight (Part One) show as part of the In The Spirit of Diaghilev programme at Sadler’s Wells last year, this new hour-long programme adds two cast members but keeps as its inspiration the swirling images of Vaslav Nijinsky first encountered by Maliphant as a student at the Royal Ballet School. The choreographer has described his work as being “somewhere between choreography and scultpure”, and here the signature elements of Maliphant’s style are well in evidence – soft, grounded pliés, an expressive upper body, and long, mobile arms. Wedded to this distinctive style are nods to the Ballets Russes canon –hip switches and swishing legs recalling Balanchine, low supported jetés that bring to mind Fokine.

The piece opens with Daniel Proietto’s solo, the “part one” developed last year, and it’s probably the strongest part of the evening. Revolving in a dim spotlight, Proietto scoops and shapes the space with arms and arcing backbends to the delicate music of Satie’s Gnossiennes. In Michael Hulls’ dappled lighting, Proietto is sometimes sculpted, sometimes obscured from view; and the swish of his limbs is slightly strobed leaving an impression of the trail lingering in space. At times, the dancer appears to hang from an arm or an elbow, like Fokine’s Petruschka dangling on a string.

Olga Corbos and Silvina Cortés dance a fluid, floor-based duet partially obscured by a projection of autumn leaves on a gauze between the dancers and audience. The projection element is the result of Maliphant’s new collaboration with animator Jan Urbanowski , and although I can see how the sensation of peeking between the forest leaves connects to the conceal-and-reveal feeling of Hulls’ lighting design, I find the gauze itself quite physically obstructive and distancing from the dancers.

A third section finds Corbos duetting with Proietto behind a pretty projection of floating clouds, which obscures less of the action and complements Andy Cowton’s Japanese-inspired score well. Swirling through space, the arms of the two dancers connect and revolve around each other in a manner reminiscent of the choreographer’s earlier work Torsion. Later in the piece, a suggestion of three characters in competition arises, with Cortés arching seductively on the floor at Proietto’s feet, leading him away from Corbos’s more innocent ingenue.

In common with much of Maliphant’s work, AfterLight oozes physical sensuousness and inventiveness, and the soft spiralling quality of the movement is always captivating. At sixty minutes in length, however, the material is just beginning to strain beyond its capacity to hold the attention. A scaled-down version, perhaps presented in a double-bill with a contrasting work (the ever-popular Two comes to mind), would make for a very pleasant evening indeed.

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Dance: Place Prize semi-final 4, 25 September

There’s a real buzz of anticipation in the 300-strong audience at The Place Robin Howard Dance theatre tonight; not only will this evening’s performance bring us the pleasure of the final four semi-finalists of this year’s competition, but April’s finalists will be announced in the bar at the end. The final clutch of commissioned Prize competitors tonight take inspiration from film noir, Broadway musicals, and the sometimes-farcical processes of choreography itself in another diverse assortment of dancemaking.

So You Think You Can Dance quarter-finalist Drew McOnie brought a touch of celebrity to the line-up (and to the audience, in the form of mentor Matthew Bourne). Slaughter is based on the narrative and score of Richard Rodgers’ 1936 piece Slaughter on 10th Avenue, and deals with the ill-fated romance of a showgirl and a male dancer. McOnie’s high-kicking choreography paid visual debt to Broadway show-dance – and to Jerome Robbins’ fusion of ballet and jazz in particular.
By contrast with Robbins’ innovative combination of classical technique and raw urban rhythms, McOnie’s tribute is conspicuously backward-looking. Slaughter pays copious homage to the MGM-stylings of the narrative source, with sequinned costumes, backlit billboards and lots and lots of legs. There’s plenty happening on stage – too much, at times, with the bustling dancers obscuring the narrative action – but Slaughter’s loving recreation of past styles keeps the work from breaking new ground.
From consciously retro to visibly avant-garde: Welsh choreographer Deborah Light brings us the idiosyncratic solo Cortex. An examination of loss of external identity, Cortex plays out with the dancer’s face obscured by a procession of wigs. As the wigs change, so does the dancer’s movement vocabulary: from spasmodic disco dancing and flapping gestures danced in a curly fright wig, to more contemplative floor-bound shifts in angelic blonde locks. Elusive and unpredictable, Cortex began strongly but found no place to go after the first couple of costume changes.
Riccardo Buscarani and Antonio de la Fe Guedes have clearly been raiding the film noir section of their local Blockbuster; Cameo owes much to the visual language of Hitchcock’s masterful thrillers. Around a leather sofa suite, two men and a woman dressed for a guest appearance on Mad Men circle one another warily, jumping at the sound of each slam and bark penetrating from the outside world. At first, the reason everyone is so jittery is concealed; but as the piece unfolds a story of marital infidelity and murderous plotting emerges.
Cameo succeeds in creating a dark and suspenseful atmosphere with its heavy clock-ticking soundtrack, gloomy noirish lighting and cleverly minimal movement, and I found myself quite absorbed in the action. The three characters pace uneasily, swapping meaningful glances and revealing connections with the briefest of touches. The piece finally evolves into a playful sofa dance built on the trio’s key gestures; the final twist, each character inhabiting another’s movement, is light and witty.
Rachel Lopez de la Nieta brings a postmodern finish to the programme with The Devil and the Details, a sideways glance at instructional choreography. The choreographer puts dancer Ben Ash through his paces with a series of commands – “Special down, stagger round, come up again” – at a furious pace while collaborator Thom Rackett beatboxes. There’s something exquisite about the way Ash twists and collapses on command as Lopez de la Nieta explores her self-confessed “inner dictator” with hilarious effect. Somehow, an exploration of choreographic process in all its unfathomable absurdity makes a very fitting end to this year’s Place Prize.
The audience scores for this last semi-final were: Drew McOnie 3.5; Deborah Light 2.3; Riccardo Buscarani and Antonio de la Fe Guedes3.2; and Rachel Lopez de la Nieta 3.1.  Tuesday’s audience vote winners Ben Duke and Raquel Meseguer won the overall audience vote with a score of 4.3; they’ll be joined in the April finals by the judges’ choices of Frauke Requardt & Freddie Opoku Addaie, Eva Recacha, and Riccardo Buscarani & Antonio de la Fe Guedes.
Four remain from 170 entries. Congratulations to the finalists, commiserations to the others, and I’m looking forward to a red-hot competition for the big prize in April.

Tickets for the Place Prize Finals 6  – 16 April 2011 are onsale now:

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Dance: Les Ballets Trockadero, 15 September

I have always loved classical ballet – but I love laughing at it even more. Fortunately for fans of both ballet and comedy, that’s a twin joy shared by Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.

The idea behind a Trocks performance is simple – hairy-chested men dance classical roles in size 12 pointe shoes, exaggerating the diva scowls, prima pouts and comic melodrama of the Russian ballet tradition. The humour wouldn’t work, though, without a technically proficient company – the dancers train daily and appear as comfortable en pointe as anyone could be. The arms may be more muscular and the chests bushier than those of female primas, but the Trocks have plenty of ballon and extensions most would die for.
Programme One opens with ChopEniana, a farcical take on Fokine’s Romantic-era abstract ballet to the music of Frederic Chopin. Sylphs in white tulle fight for centre stage, soloists knock each other out with misplaced attitudes, and the prima’s heavy landings shake the gentle surrounding tableaux of the corps. High-flying jetés combine with Lindy-hop lifts and dancers tangle in each other’s arms in a joyful slapstick. Joy likewise infuses La Vivandiere Pas de Six, danced by the enormously tall Katerina Bychkova (Joshua Grant) and the tiny but extraordinarily springy Ketevan Iosifidi (new dancer Long Zou).
Anna Pavlova’s signature solo The Dying Swan is given a memorable interpretation by Ida Nevasayneva (the great Paul Ghiselin, Ballet Master for the company). Like Pavlova, Ghiselin leaves hardly a dry eye in the house, but for very different reasons. His sick bird, strewing feathers all over the stage and dancing a version of the Funky Chicken en pointe that must be seen to be believed, has the audience rolling in the aisles.
The real highlight, however, is Patterns In Space, a genuine and generous tribute to the late Merce Cunningham that perfectly captures the exactitude of the Cunningham movement style while neatly puncturing the often mystifying postmodern presentation. Three dancers dressed in Cunningham standard-issue unitards and beatnik wigs advance across the stage with flying retirés and extended lunges to the fourth. Every triplet, flat-backed arabesque and purposeful stride is minutely and lovingly observed.
Diverting our attention from these precise movement combinations is the conspicuous performance of two musicians seated downstage, playing a variety of “instruments” including bubblewrap, paper bag and kazoo. The more the two musicians pop, gargle and moo, the more hilarious the technical mid-stage action gets. The Cunningham company is currently touring Nearly Ninety in tribute to the choreographer, but while that is Cunningham’s final known creation, Patterns In Space may yet reveal itself to be his lost masterpiece.
This new work repertory perfectly captures the theme of reverent irreverence that underpins the Trocks experience. The company’s genius lies in the recognition that the classical canon needs only a few small nudges to tip from the sublime to the comic absurd; by turning the camp dial up just a notch, the Trocks celebrate everything that is ridiculous – and fabulous – about ballet.

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News: Make time for me-time in Finsbury Park

Summer is officially over and September always brings with it a definite back-to-school air, whether that literally means the start of a new term or a return to the office after a holiday in the sun. What options does Finsbury Park have for start-of-term R&R? We had a look.

    Hair and Beauty

    A change of hairstyle is a great way to get the new season off to a great start, and Finsbury Park isn’t short of hairdressers who can create a dramatic, or a subtle, new look. Blossoms on Stroud Green Road is housed in a quirky, baroque-style salon that’s guaranteed to help you feel special.

    I’ve used Toni and Guy on Crouch Hill several times, and always been happy. Other readers recommend Idol over in Stoke Newington.

    Massage and Facials

    If you’re in need of some all-over pampering, Aquarius Beauty on the bottom of Stroud Green Road offers a full range of luxurious facials from £25, and massage treatments from £30, to relieve stress and leave you glowing and vitalised.

    Holistic Thearapies on Plimsoll Road can help with muscular tension and pain using sports massage, trigger-point therapy and acupressure. There’s also a range of relaxing treatments including Indian head massage and reflexology. Rates start at £25, and a home-visit service is also available.

    Top to toe

    Don’t forget those important extremities! Hands and feet do a lot of daily work and carry tension, and it’s good to look after them. Hard As Nailz can transform your worn-out, nailbitten fingers into objects of glory with a moisturising paraffin wax treatment (£20), french manicure (£22) or set of acrylic nails (£25). Tootsies are also well-catered for, with foot treatments including massage starting at £25.

    Aquarius also offer mani- and pedicure services, as does Cali Nails on Blackstock Road.

    What’s your favourite way to primp, preen and unwind in N4? Let us know below!

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