Lise Smith writing samples

Dance, reviews and dance reviews

The Rose and the Bulbul

1487763062.jpg

Geffrye Museum, 20 July and touring

There are many worse ways to spend a summer’s evening than wandering the lovely gardens of Hoxton’s Geffrye Museum following a band of itinerant performers made up of dancers, actors and glorious musicians; and this restaging of The Rose and the Bulbul (originally created in 2016) allows us to do just that. The processional production, created by a collaborative team of including musician Arieb Azhar, choreographer Kali Chandrasegaram and director Sita Thomas. The piece brings together the titular Tudor Rose, who inspires poets as a symbol of love, and the Persian Bulbul who helps her to mend her own heart again.

The show is billed as family-friendly but is not specifically created for young children; indeed, a post-bedtime performance time in Hoxton meant the entire audience was well past the first flush of youth (performance times are better suited to younger audiences elsewhere on the tour). To my ears, the script (with its deliberate archaisms) is also rather wordy for very young children. Actor Tony Hasnath gives an appealingly physical performance as the Bulbul, hopping around the garden setting and swinging daintily from trees and gateways. As Rose, a winsome Aryana Ramkhalawon suffers from a script stitched largely together from complaints, leaving her with little to do other than emote earnestly for forty minutes until the final celebration provides an opportunity to lighten up.

Among the trio of dancers that animate the series of gardens we walk through on our processional journey, Kathak dancer Manuela Benini is a particular pleasure to watch with her assured and expressive grace. Fluid and flexible contemporary dancer Lola Maury commits herself to the moment so fully that she briefly falls into a lavender bush at one point, which is one of the special joys of outdoor performance (and one swiftly recovered from at that).

Generally the dance material responds well to its lovely outdoor setting, with portions of the performance designed to be viewed in close-up, the audience led by the cast to nooks and crannies of the very interesting historic gardens at the Geffrye. That said, the other rule of outdoor performance is to make sure that all elements of the performance can be seen by audience members standing in unpredictable parts of the performance space; parts of the performance were sometimes attractively glimpsed through parts of the natural scenery and sometimes simply not visible.

A small group of student dancers pops up at various points throughout the show, but are disappointingly not well integrated into the performance as a whole, functioning more as a series of tableaux vivant than part of the story or main choreography. As someone who works regularly with young and community performers myself I feel this is a bit of a missed opportunity; community performances require a lot of rehearsal and ideally include creative contributions from the participants, however young, and there’s not a lot of evidence for either in this production. If there were one thing to really improve about future presentations of this show it would be to either fully commit to working with a community group and bring them meaningfully into the performance, or to let that element go.

With that slight misgiving aside there’s a lot to enjoy about The Rose and the Bulbul, in particular the enchanting music that successfully brings together Tudor themes played by baroque violinist May Robertson and South Asian melodies from composer and contemporary Pakistani folk singer Arieb Azhar. The mesmerizing soundtrack would be a delightful thing to enjoy in a garden on a summer’s evening quite by itself. Touring next to the Horniman Museum and Lauderdale House in Highgate, the Rose and the Bulbul is a pleasant way to spend an hour in some very attractive settings this summer.

Originally published in Pulse Magazine

Advertisements

September 21, 2017 Posted by | Dance | Leave a comment

Dance Review: ATMA Dance – The Magic Fish

ATMA Dance – The Magic Fish
Saturday 16 July 2016, The Place Robin Howard Theatre

magicfish

Since launching her company ATMA Dance in 2010, contemporary Bharata Natyam choreographer Mayuri Boonham has made a series of well-crafted, intellectually curious works that deal with subject matter as diverse as T.S Eliot’s poetry and the universe before the Big Bang. The Magic Fish is Boonham’s first work for children, and the centerpiece of this year’s Something Happening For Kids children’s festival at The Place.

Not to be confused with the European folk story of the same name, The Magic Fish uses dance, music and spoken word to tell the story of Vishnu in his incarnation as Matsya. The performance is billed as suitable for children aged 5-9 years old, but many of the much younger children in the audience (including my own 9-month-old baby daughter) were quite enraptured by Boonham’s enchanting portrayal of Vishnu, who we first encounter sleeping on the stage, bathed in aquatic green light with a hypnotic twinkling soundtrack lapping over us.

The piece begins with Boonham introducing herself as the somnolent god, with a monologue delivered over the top of a fluid, gestural solo. Vishnu then calls to the stage regular ATMA collaborator Pauline Reibell as the titular fish; this use of two performers in essentially one role (Vishnu and Vishnu-as-Matsya) did confuse my non-dance-frequenting husband but didn’t appear to bother the younger viewers one jot. Reibell, in a non-speaking role, is a wonderfully labile fish with her expressive spine and supple hands.

The hypnotic, otherworldly mood changes into something more earthy with the arrival of King Manu (Pirashanna Thevarajah) making his way in through the audience. Thevarajah, who has a ready rapport with the young audience members, brings a jocular, blokey appeal to his regal role and encourages plenty of interaction. He greets his loyal subjects in the auditorium with waves and high-fives; takes a refreshing mimed bath in the river with lots of characterful scrubbing and gargling; and (later in the show) holds the young viewers rapt with his rhythmic mridangam playing.

Lovers of Indian myth will already know how the story continues: Manu finds a magical speaking fish in his bathing water one morning, and promises to save the fish from predators in the river by taking him home to his palace. Overnight, thanks to the magic of theatre and large swathes of fabric, the fish grows immense (accompanied, in this version, by high-pitched shouts of “fish behind you!”) and reveals itself to be Vishnu, transformed into fish form to fight the demon No-Knowledge.

Manu of course has to build a ship to keep the subjects of his kingdom safe, and here the ship is interactively formed from young audience members invited to the stage to create the bow, stern and mast with their own bodies. The number of eager volunteers arriving on stage to help with this part of the story illustrates the engaging nature of the show and it was great to see even the younger children in the audience were not too shy to participate. Fortunately, Manu’s plan works, the ship reaches the Himalayas, and everyone’s suggested treasures are distributed among the people to start a new society. Cue a feelgood ending and happy smiles all around.

If there’s a small criticism to be made about The Magic Fish, it’s that the advertised running time of 40 minutes feels far more suited to the target age range than the nearly hour-long performance that actually took place. If Boonham can find a way to move the show along at a more child-friendly lick without losing the playfulness and interactivity – and if someone in the crew can find a slightly nicer piece of set to represent the Kritamala river than the length of plastic sheeting that looked like it might have come in a hurry from Homebase – she’ll have a winner on her hands.

Originally published in Pulse Magazine

August 1, 2016 Posted by | Dance | Leave a comment

On leave

I’m currently on maternity leave – take a look at how that’s going at Baby Plus Two.

December 23, 2015 Posted by | Dance | Leave a comment

Dance Review: Fringe at The Place, Sweetshop Revolution/Sue MacLaine

Dance is a small but sturdy part of the Edinburgh Fringe programme, with a growing number of dance makers opting to take work up to the world’s largest arts festival to nestle against stand-up comedy, cabaret and new drama. This year The Place previews six new dance works on their way up to Edinburgh; the third evening of Fringe at The Place paired a delicate biographical piece from dancer-choreographer Sally Marie with arresting autobiographical philosophy from Sue MacLaine.

I Loved You and I Loved You is a reflection on the life and work of Welsh composer Morfydd Owen, portrayed by dancer Faith Prendergast. Owen’s sex and humble social background challenged the conventions of the late-Edwardian music world; she was a celebrated pianist, singer and prolific composer, producing over 180 known compositions in the ten years leading up to her early death. Owen’s social life was no less turbulent: pursued by former politician Eliot Crawshay-Williams (Karl Fargarlund-Brekke), she chose instead to marry psychoanalyst Ernest Jones (Daniel Whiley), who may have been put a dampener on her unusual career.

Prendergast, Whiley and Fargarlund-Brekke all give strong performances. Whiley writhes himself into twisted contortions of self-torture, seemingly unable to reconcile the sexual theories of his mentor Sigmund Freud with his own repressed desires in an agonising monologue in which Jones appears to be trying to crawl out of his own skin; Fargarlund-Brekke’s character is more smoothly self-assured, but cracks in the confident surface reveal thwarted ambition and self-doubt beneath. Tiny, doll-like Prendergast first appears on stage as an embodiment of her own music, drawing notes from the piano (played by Brian Ellsbury) with a twist of the head and a stir of the arm. She whirls about her lovers with joyous abandon, soothing oil to the troubled waters of each man’s passions.

What I slightly miss from this engaging and beautifully-performed work at present is a sense of Owen’s own voice, her agency, her motivations for the choices she makes. Prendergast is the only member of the cast not to speak on stage; at present, she literally lacks a voice. The opening sequence sees her passed bodily between her two co-performers, as if she has no personal power at all. This initial impression runs quite contrary to the spirited Owen we see in later duets, but lingers in the mind even as we listen to the compositions and view the life and loves of a highly unconventional woman. I Loved You and I Loved You is presented here as a work in progress, and with further work in the studio could be a delicate, affecting gem of a piece at this year’s Fringe.

It’s not every dance theatre piece that contains the word “equivalence”. Theatre maker Sue MacLaine’s Can I Start Again Please, a philosophical investigation of the limitations of language in describing experience touching on Wittgenstein, theories of translation and child abuse, is an unusual and absorbing work. MacLaine and co-creator Nadia Nadarajah sit side by side facing the audience, a long scroll of text (a script? A set of instructions?) concertinaed between them. MacLaine introduces her putative subject – Wittgenstein – the Austrian-born linguistic philosopher whose most famous pronouncements include “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.”

Nadarajah serenely translates MacLaine’s words into beautifully gestured British Sign Language (BSL), fluid as a kathak performance and mesmerising to watch. But it’s a rebellious translation: at times, Nadarajah sits still while MacLaine pauses for some description to be interpreted; at other times, Nadarajah translates MacLaine’s direct questions to her instead of answering. MacLaine worries about how her story will be received – can she assume the audience will know who Wittgenstein is, or must this be detailed to ensure understanding? Can we ever ensure understanding? MacLaine is uncertain, and allows this theoretical uncertainty to flit lightly between the earnest and the comical.

Over the course of fifty bold, gripping minutes, a harrowing tale of family abuse emerges – a lamp, a bedroom, a house, a family, an entire world made absurd and unreal by a process of childhood dissociation. We learn the BSL signs for “repression” and “suppression”, and the difference between the two is fascinating and provoking. Where MacLaine’s concerns about the capacity of language to convey her experience are frequently laugh-out-loud funny, the audience falls into a hush of appalled comprehension at the narrative of MacLaine’s trauma. MacLaine finds a way to articulate what has happened – a way to speak “whereof” – that demands only silence in return.

Can I Start Again Please is a brave work, not only because it deals with an emotionally difficult topic but because it deals with its subject in an unapologetically rational, even academic manner. Dance theatre pieces that muse on formal and functional equivalence in language may be few and far between, but MacLaine’s warm, engaging manner, the frequent humour and the beauty of the staging mean Can I Start Again Please is inviting rather than alienating, even for those in the audience that lack large quantities of translation theory in their research backgrounds. An accomplished piece of theatre that deserves to do well in Edinburgh.

Originally published at www.londondance.com

August 20, 2015 Posted by | Dance, Reviews | , | Leave a comment

Dance review: Compagnie DCA Philippe Decoufle, Contact, Sadler’s Wells

Contact image Bettina Strenske

Philippe Decouflé is the French theatrical magician who has previously brought to life an encyclopedia of imaginary animals (in Codex/Tricodex), delved into the secret life of shadows (Sombrero), and created the delightfully bonkers opening ceremony for the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville. His works are hard to classify, straddling the boundaries between dance, cabaret, comedy and contemporary theatre with a healthy dash of stage artifice and visual trickery.Contact, a show about sixteen performers putting on a very loose adaptation of Faust, is no different in this regard – a melange of skits, spectacle and silliness sprinkled with moments of genuinely breathtaking beauty.

Contact opens with a fluid solo for dancer Eric Martin. Dressed in a spangled tailsuit and coiffed to look just like Vincent Van Gogh’s self-portrait, Martin glides bonelessly across the forestage with a sliding variation that’s equal parts Broadway jazz and the new streetdance style of floating. As other company members filter in behind him, the pulsing sounds played live by musicians Nosfell and Pierre Le Bosfell ramp up from sparse synth percussion to a richer full-bodied soundtrack.

Contact makes mesmerising use of its cast’s many talents. Julien Ferrantishows himself to be as adapt with a countertenor vibrato as he is dancing the lindy hop; Violette Wanty joins circus-trainedSuzanne Soler for an aerial duet on bungee chords; and the exotically limber Sean Patrick Mombrunowinds himself athletically into a small box as if it was the easiest thing in the world. Lines between disciplines are blurred; musicians join in sections of dance, dancers erupt into song, and everyone is swept into the comic dialogue between the refreshingly older performers Stéphane Chivot andChristophe Salengro.

Decouflé has a similarly boundary-blurring approach to movement, with nods toMGM musicals, lively partner dance and Bauschian parade all in the choreographic blender. A lengthy dance-battle sequence recalls West Side Story; a thrilling corde lisse solo for Soler finds the acrobat whipped around at terrifying speeds (for me; clearly Soler herself has no fear). Dance scenes are frequently accompanied by live-captured video effects designed by Olivier Simola; the live action onstage is blown up onto the back wall, looped, inverted and fractured into kaleidoscopic effects that recall Busby Berkeley’s bathers in glorious technicolor.

If there’s a criticism to be made about Contact, it’s that the loose narrative of a troupe performing a strangely modified version of Faust isn’t coherent enough to frame the work effectively, and towards the comic vignettes occasionally distract from the otherwise hypnotic dance sequences. There’s a definite drop in energy towards the end as well, with the last twenty minutes feeling decidedly saggy; a sequence articulating a mathematical proof of God suffers either from sound problems or lack of rehearsal, as the unison is less taut here than elsewhere in the show for both speakers and dancers.

Overall, however, Contact is as full of strange delights as the company’s previous outings. Bizarre, otherworldly and beautiful – in other words, business as usual for the Gallic maverick.

http://www.sadlerswells.com

Originally published at londondance.com

June 18, 2015 Posted by | Dance, Reviews | , | Leave a comment

Dance Review: Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Ahnen, Sadler’s Wells

Image: Bettina Strenske

Tanztheater Wuppertal has a notably devoted following and, to some extent, viewers will already know what to expect from a Bausch work. A large, dominant stage set by Peter Pabst that frames, hinders or becomes part of the action; beautifully-performed gestural processions; loosely-connected vignettes; Marion Cito’s gorgeous costuming. These elements are all present and correct in Ahnen, but with an added element of strange chaos that doesn’t belong to her most famous works.

The first ten minutes of the show seem deliberately calculated to put the audience’s collective head in a spin. Bright lighting; a loud burst of German electropunk; characters strutting across the stage in a bizarre mélange of costumes that includes manga cats, kilted punks and animated hats like something out of a Magritte painting; a woman dumping wheelbarrowloads of bricks at the back of the stage; a woman attacking a concrete block with a pneumatic drill. Overlapping action and unexplained occurrences on stage are a pair of Pina hallmarks, but the frenetic rate and the dizzying randomness of events made me wonder if Bausch had popped across the border in 1987 for a trip to see one of her young Belgian contemporaries – Alain Platel, perhaps, or maybe Wim Vandekeybus.

After a while the pace settles down, but the action itself continues flitting from scene to scene without even the loose connecting theme that binds so much of Bausch’s other work. A woman with a painted face grates a stick of soap into powder onto a rug; a man appears bound with an orange in his mouth, and is given a wet-shave by a fellow cast member; somebody mops a walrus at the back of the stage. There’s a helicopter, and a dog. A man sits silently in front of a microphone with a tutu wrapped around his head; others stack bricks, wind wool and tie ties repeatedly. One man instructs another to literally jump through a hoop placed against a wall with painful-looking results.

Pain is otherwise notable by its absence here, in stark contrast to last week’s bleaker Auf dem Gebirge hat man ein Geschrei gehört. The mood is light, if relentlessly odd; Bausch’s works are usually abstractedly dreamlike, but Ahnen is more overtly surreal than any I recall to date. There’s a feeling of global wandering – the soundtrack lurches from African drumming to Monteverdi via Ella Fitzgerald and Japanese pop – and the desert evoked by the giant (and undeniably phallic) cacti seems less of a physical location and more a place of the soul.

Ahnen is certainly a peculiar kind of fun, and there are endless surprises and sweet highlights throughout – from hilarious running translations of Bizet arias to a seated ensemble section for hands (perhaps a little touch of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker creeping in there) – but it’s hard to say what it all adds up to. The title suggests only the most hazy of clues: as a noun ‘Ahnen’ can mean ancestors (for anyone looking for connections to last week’s show it’s part of the term ‘Ahnenpass’, the document used in Nazi Germany to prove Aryan heritage) or, as a verb, to guess, intuit or suspect. Portions of the show seem to hint at a sense of wandering identity, a search for heritage, an attempt to fit in among the cacti; others seem to veer more towards a sense of guessing, intuiting, feeling without understanding.

A technical hitch with the fire curtain towards the end of the second half had the audience wondering if this was another (deliberate) strange intervention in a landscape of strange interventions – tribute, certainly, to the commitment of the cast in maintaining this most peculiar of atmospheres. Described by Artistic Director Lutz Förster as “completely crazy” and by The Guardian’s Judith Mackrell as “Bausch on speed”, Ahnen is undoubtedly an oddity among the Bausch back-catalogue but an enjoyable one all the same.

Photo: Bettina Strenske

Originally published at www.londondance.com

June 4, 2015 Posted by | Dance, Reviews | , | Leave a comment

Feature: Dancers’ Pay Debate

Chaired by Hilary Hadley (Equity) with Nicholas Keegan, Flora Wellesley Wesley; Shanelle Fergus, Dancers United

#DUKfuture, Laban Saturday 11 April 2015

Dancers’ pay has been identified as a challenge for both the subsidised and the commercial dance sectors recently, with social media campaigns such as #paythedancers highlighting the prevelance of low-paid and unpaid work across the industry. This well-attended panel debate explored some of the background to pay issues for dancers, and outlined actions dancers can take to ensure they are paid properly to work.

Independent dance artist Nicholas Keegan introduced the work of the recently-formed Equity Freelance Dance Network, a group founded to improve standards and empower the varied community of freelance dance artists working in the subsidised dance sector. One of the aims of the movement is to instigate a change in dancers’ mentality, explains Keegan: “Dancers are both workers and artists, and we need to move away from the image of an artist working for the love of what they do.”

At present, Arts Council-funded companies and projects are required to pay dance artists at least Equity minimum wage – which does not mean that this always happens in practice; and even National Portfolio Organisations that pay union rates rarely have Equity contracts with their dancers, meaning there is little protection for the dancer in cases of cancellation or injury. According to recent data, only 20% of professional dancers last year were able to live on money earned solely through dance work, and only 15% warned a full living wage. “The responsibility for implementing change is not solely Equity’s,” says Keegan, “it is all our responsibility.”

Why do dancers take on unpaid work? Commercial dancer and co-founder of Dancers United UK Shanelle Fergus explains that few dancers enter the industry in the hope of sitting around on the sofa at home. “Everyone wants to be busy and dancing and improving their CV. If the choice is working for nothing or doing nothing, most will work for nothing.” Unfortunately, this enthusiasm to work leaves dancers open to exploitation, with commercial video shoots and TV spots regulary enticing dancers to come and work for free in the hope of improving their profiles.

“Dance is a profession where you are continually paying – for class, for physio and the gym, to eat well – and the least we should be offered is pay for work,” says Shanelle. “If you go on a shoot, even the runner is being paid – dancers should not be asked to dance for free.” Working with Equity, Dancers United UK have already succeded in improving the pay and contracts on shows including the X Factor, as well as persuading producers to pay dancers on music video shoots.

Independent dance artist Flora Wellesley Wesley acknowledges that it’s not uncommon to take on a certain quantity of unpaid work at the very start of a career, especially when working with friends on unfunded projects, but believes a bigger problem arises when funded projects still expect dancers to come and work for little or no money. “When I see callouts for dancers where the pay isn’t right I’ve starting sending it to Emmanuel at Equity who is in charge of low and no pay work. Because of the scarcity of work and the keenness of dancers – big production houses can get away with these callouts but I think it’s unacceptable.”

Wellesley Wesley also called on funders and commissioners to take part of the responsibility for dancers’s pay – commissions going out to artists for small sums of money mean that there is little funding available for makers to pay their dancers with. “Commissioners and funders and industry bodies need to be clear-sighted about the issue,” she says. “A £1,000 commission will pay two dancers for a week – so commissioners need to understand that and deal with the numbers properly.”

The message of the panel was that change needs to happen at all levels of the industry – dancers need to take responsibility for the work they take on, funders need to work with artists to make sure dancers are properly paid, and producers need to ensure they’re not expecting dancers to work for less money than other professionals engaged on a project.

More info: http://equitydance.org

Report & photos: Lise Smith “Twitter: @lisekit“https://twitter.com/Lisekit

Originally published at www.londondance.com

April 13, 2015 Posted by | Dance, General Musings, News | , , , , | Leave a comment

Feature: Dance To The Music – contemporary dance in music video

You might not look to pop video clips for your contemporary dance kicks – but in fact, as Lise Smith points out, techniques, choreography, styles and ideas from contemporary dance have been a distinctive influence on the development and direction of music video.

Popular music and artful contemporary dance have rarely been easy bedfellows. Chart music might be uniquely capable of getting the masses moving every weekend in social spaces from ballrooms to warehouses, but contemporary choreographers working in the theatre tend not to look for musical accompaniment from popular sources. Classical and neoclassical compositions, avant-garde and electronic soundscapes, natural sounds and ambient noise have all soundtracked works by choreographers from Merce Cunningham to Mark Morris, but rarely has pop music (by which I mean any popular form rather than purely synth-based bubblegum) been given serious choreographic attention. Think of dance and pop together and (depending on your age and powers of recall) you’re more likely to think of either the choreographic oeuvre of Flick Colby and her various troupes on Top of the Pops, or of fresh-faced youngsters in lycra dancing a synchronised number behind a lip-synching singer on MTV. Neither example is likely to be mistaken for sophisticated contemporary dance.

Look beyond these overarching norms, however, and there are pockets of choreographic brilliance to be found on music television. Artists with an interest in performance have pushed at the boundaries of the promo video and its creative possibilities almost as long as the form has been with us, bringing contemporary dance and choreography to audience numbers undreamed of by theatre choreographers.

Before we dive deeper into some of these four-minute gems, let’s take a quick look at how music videos became the vital part of music promotion and consumption they are today.

Read full article at www.danceumbrella.com

February 14, 2015 Posted by | Dance, Features | , , | Leave a comment

Dance Review: Ultima Vez, What The Body Does Not Remember, Sadler’s Wells  

It’s fair to say that 28 years ago, the debut production by Wim Vandekeybus and his company Ultima Vez changed the face of European dance theatre. In a landscape dominated by neoclassical lines set to contemporary classical scores, Ultima Vez quite literally crashed onto the scene with a vocabulary built on combat rolls, whole-body assaults on the floor and some pretty dangerous-looking brick hurling. That the work still looks fresh and modern is testimony to how truly groundbreaking it was in 1987.

The opening section of the piece (sometimes excerpted as “Hands”) still thrills with its intensely rhythmic interplay between a lone percussionist at the back of the stage playing an amplified table-top, and the two floorbound dancers answering each musical phrase in movement. There’s almost something of a South Asian classical structure to this sequence – rhythms pounded out on a table (rather than a tabla) and repeated in percussive body movement – but with a hyper-physical twist that finds the dancers flipping upside down and landing in the plank position in ever-quicker, ever more impossible unison.

Critics dubbed the style “Eurocrash” (although the name has been fondly adopted since by fans) and it’s probably the second section that finds Vandekeybus’s choreography at its most aggressive. Dancers circle the stage with wild (but perfectly-timed) sprints and leaps, and lob plaster blocks across the stage with apparent disregard for the safety of their colleagues. The eye is repeatedly drawn across the stage by arcs of flying plaster, then surprised by action erupting on the other side of the stage. It’s a carefully-controlled form of anarchy, born of clever stucture and split-second timing with the constant danger of descending into chaos.

In fact, if there’s one criticism to be had about this revival it’s that the performers are a little too slick with the material. There’s certainly one kind of delight to be had from watching the absolute trust that springs from knowing with absolute certainty that a brick or a body will be flying to a certain place onstage at a given time. Veterans in the audience may miss the rougher edge of earlier stagings, however, in which the cast often appeared to be in genuinely imminent danger.

Later sections are more playful – a sequence with the cast parading across the diagonal in a succession of rapidly changing beach towels has something of Pina’s processions about it, with an additional lick of towel-based humour. Attempts to take a group photograph go absurdly wrong when one member of the cast seems unsure which way is up.

Vandekeybus doesn’t let us stay comfortable for too long, however – a lengthy central sequence sees three women engaged in an extended game of non-consensual frisking with three male partners. If it’s uncomfortable to watch when the men’s advances are clearly unwelcome, it becomes even more so when some of the women seem to enjoy the brutal attention.

The performance is accompanied by robust live music from the Ictus ensemble, some of it ear-grating polyphonia, some of it uptempo jungle ryhthms. Whether you enjoy the music – and the production – probably depends on how bruising you like your scores and your movement. If your answer, like mine, is “very”, there’s probably no more enjoyable show in town this season.

Touring until 20th March – http://www.ultimaveztour.co.uk

Originally published at www.londondance.com

February 13, 2015 Posted by | Dance, Reviews | Leave a comment

Fiery Footwork, Flashy Fingers: Akram Khan And Israel Galván  

The always-watchable Akram Khan has been delighting audiences with his innovative combinations of kathak and contemporary dance for over a decade. No stranger to collaboration, this period has seen him work with artists as diverse as Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Sylvie Guillem and Juliette Binoche. This latest duet pairs the British choreographer-performer with flamenco superstar Israel Galván in a performance that puts the shared roots of kathak and flamenco through a blender to create a new and sometimes dazzling form.

The silence in which TOROBAKA begins brings new meaning to the phrase “hushed expectation”. UK audiences are expecting something spectacular from the superbly inventive Khan and the number of Spanish voices overheard in the foyer suggests the pull Galván has on his home audience. The performance begins with a clapping of hands and a slapping of bare feet on the floor, rhythmic kathak cycles broken up with intricate flicks and taps drawn from flamenco. Rapid whirling spins from Khan’s vocabulary are broken apart with syncopated body percussion from Galván’s, the two swooping into bull-like charges and matador swishes.

The opening duet reveals interesting contrasts between the two master performers; while Galván’s fleet footwork matches Khan’s step for step, his upper body is wilder, looser and less precise than the serene Khan’s. It’s only when the Spaniard steps to the side for an eccentric solo of hip-snapping, ferocious foot-stamping and incredibly rapid finger-clicking that his flame comes fully alive. Galván is an electrifyingly sensual performer when given the opportunity to own the stage. It’s an opportunity Khan gives generously, allowing Galván the lion’s share of the stage time — a decision that will perhaps disappoint fans who have primarily come to see the British artist perform.

An international troupe of musicians provides a soundtrack melding Carnatic ragas with Hispanic harmonies, and quickfire mnemonic syllables with lusty Spanish counting. There’s a great sense of camaraderie onstage, and the work feels like a passionate exchange of ideas — intermittently brilliant, rough around the edges and sometimes lacking in substance.

None of which seemed to bother the ecstatic crowd at Monday night’s premiere. TOROBAKA doesn’t quite offer the sublime alchemy of Zero Degrees or Sacred Monsters, but it does offer a rare chance to see two compelling performers pushing the boundaries of their respective forms.
Originally published at www.londonist.com

November 5, 2014 Posted by | Dance, Reviews | , | Leave a comment