Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae in 'The Illustrated Farewell'. The Royal Ballet, 2017. © The Royal Opera House. Photo: Tristram Kenton.

‘The Illustrated Farewell’, ‘The Wind’, ‘Untouchable’. The Royal Ballet

6 November 2017, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

Two new works and one revival made up the Royal Ballet’s most recent triple bill. The opener, Twyla Tharp’s The Illustrated ‘Farewell’ should perhaps be described as new-ish rather than new, since it also drew on material Tharp had made way back in 1973 in a work called As time goes by. Tharp’s work was by far the most attractive item, in a choreographic sense, on the program.

Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae made spectacular, separate entrances, covering the stage with expansive grands jetés and bringing their trademark joyous approach to their dancing. Such a pleasure to see them. They then proceeded to dance the first two parts of Joseph Haydn’s 45th (so-called  ‘Farewell’) symphony, scarcely stopping throughout the two movements to catch their breath. They were perfectly matched as partners, executing Tharp’s twisting, turning, demanding movements and making the most of her playful approach at times. A swirl of ballroom steps and even a high-five appeared amongst the more classical moves. It was a virtuoso performance.

Lamb and McRae were a hard act to follow but Mayara Magri held the stage In a solo before the music for the third movement began. Hers was a remarkable display of dancing that showed off both Tharp’s expansive yet intricate choreography and Magri’s strong technical skills. Then, as the music began, Magri was joined by a corps of dancers, who seemed to appear from nowhere. Both this third movement and the fourth were filled with intricate groupings of dancers sometimes dancing in unison but mostly working separately from each other so the overall patterning looked scattered.

Mayara Magri in The Illustrated Farewell. The Royal Ballet, 2017. © ROH. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Mayara Magri in The Illustrated ‘Farewell’. © 2017 ROH. Photo: Tristram Kenton.

The work finished beautifully with Lamb and McRae appearing unexpectedly upstage on a raised black platform against a black background. They kneeled in a kind of homage and then disappeared into the black, while below Joseph Sissens, in white trunks and long-sleeved white shirt, melted to the ground in a poignant farewell.

Arthur Pita’s work The Wind, danced to a commissioned score by Frank Moon, followed as the middle piece. Based on a story by Dorothy Scarborough written in 1925, which was subsequently made into a silent movie, the ballet follows events in the life of a young woman from Virginia, Letty Mason, who arrives in Texas in the 1880s and is tormented in mind, body and soul by the wind and the bleakness of the landscape. The story is complex and includes, on an obvious narrative level, marriage, rape, and eventual revenge by Mason. But The Wind suffers from Pita’s condensing of the story and his efforts to include a dimension beyond the obvious. To achieve this latter he introduces two characters, Cynthia (Wild Woman) danced by Elizabeth McGorian, and Mawarra (the Lost) danced by Edward Watson, who appear to represent Mason’s mental state.

In all this Pita leaves little time for including much dancing. In the role of Letty Mason, Natalia Osipova makes a sterling attempt to develop the role but she is given far too little dancing in which to do it. And so it is with the other leading characters—Thiago Soares as the cowpuncher Lige Hightower, who marries Mason; and Thomas Whitehead as Wirt Roddy, a cattle buyer who rapes her.

Thomas Whitehead as Wirt Roddy & Natalia Osipova as Letty Mason in The Wind. © 2017 ROH. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Then there were those three large wind machines that took up a lot of the performance space and blew air across the stage throughout the ballet. I thought they were obtrusive and promoted the idea of the relentless quality of the wind rather too pointedly. Nor am I sure that we needed to see so much wind being generated by the machines. Having Osipova struggling at one stage to keep her wedding veil from either escaping or engulfing her was a little too much.

There was, however, something fascinating about The Wind. Despite the lack of dancing given to some of the Royal Ballet’s strongest artists, there was something powerful about the way Pita had distilled the story. There was a starkness to the work, although perhaps this came more from Jeremy Herbert’s minimal set (apart from the overpowering presence of the wind machines), and a strong lighting design by Adam Silverman, as much as anything else. It reminded me a little of Agnes de Mille’s work, especially her Fall River Legend, and I suspect that The Wind could be revised to have a similar impact as Fall River Legend.

The evening closed with Hofesh Shechter’s Untouchable, a work concerning ‘moving with the herd’ first seen in 2015. There was a lot of militaristic moving around in groups with the occasional breakout by a few dancers to form separate groups. Occasionally I had the feeling that the movement was referencing a folk idiom. The best part was probably the atmospheric lighting by Lee Curran.

Artists of the Royal Ballet in 'Untouchable'. 2017 © Photo: Tristram Kenton

Artists of the Royal Ballet in Untouchable. © 2017 ROH Photo: Tristram Kenton

Michelle Potter, 10 November 2017

Featured image: Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae in The Illustrated ‘Farewell’. The Royal Ballet, 2017. © The Royal Opera House. Photo: Tristram Kenton.

Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae in 'The Illustrated Farewell'. The Royal Ballet, 2017. © The Royal Opera House. Photo: Tristram Kenton.

Shadow Aspect program

‘Shadow Aspect.’ Ballet Cymru

5 November 2017, Lilian Baylis Studio, London

There was much that was abrupt in Tim Podesta’s Shadow Aspect, which featured guest artist Mara Galeazzi and dancers of the Welsh company, Ballet Cymru. The lighting came on and off abruptly, for example, and the music changed abruptly from loud and powerful to more gentle when the music was punctuated by a singing voice. Moreover, the choreography was not what one might called softly fluid—it too often had a sharp edge, an abruptness, and sometimes a static quality to it.

Having said that there was a lot to challenge the eye in Podesta’s choreography. I enjoyed the lifts where bodies were thrown across and around each other, the unusual gestures of the hands and arms, and the feeling that at times bodies were collapsing in on themselves. It reminded me a little of William Forsythe’s comments that he was interested in researching what the body can do, although the outcome in Podesta’s case was quite unlike Forsythe. Podesta rarely pushed the body off its central (classical) axis, as Forsythe was prone to do, hence the static feeling I got. Nevertheless, the dancers of Ballet Cymru executed Podesta’s challenging moves with strength and determination.

Podesta has explained in various places what was behind the work, and why it had the title Shadow Aspect. He quotes Carl Jung who said: ‘To know yourself, you must accept your dark side. To deal with others’ dark sides, you must also know your dark side.’

The shadow of the title is the dark side and elsewhere Podesta says that the work has a definite narrative and suggests that the narrative is quite clear, although open to interpretation. I didn’t have time to work out what the narrative was. The choreography was so busy being different that it was enough to take it in without worrying about a narrative. Less focus on being different would perhaps have made the narrative, whatever it was, clearer. Perhaps a dramaturg would be in order?

As for Mara Galeazzi, I have admired her dancing since I first saw her in Winter Dreams with the Royal Ballet in 2010, and I was highly impressed with her performance as Clarissa in Wayne McGregor’s Woolf Works in its 2017 staging. But, while she danced with her usual technical skill the choreography as set for her in Shadow Aspect, how I longed to see her in a work in which the choreography had more warmth to it.

Michelle Potter, 6 November 2017

Featured image: Program for Shadow Aspect

Shadow Aspect program

Lucien Johnson, Carmel McGlone, Emmanuel Reynaud, Lucy Marinkovich. and Matthew Moore in 'Lobsters', 2017. Photo: Philip Merry

‘Lobsters’, again, again. Borderline Arts Ensemble

4 November, Circa Theatre, Wellington

What a lucky stroke that this little show Lobsters ran for a fortnight season at Circa Theatre (most dance seasons here span two or three days, some are even oncers). That gave us a chance to return for several repeat viewings, and there were fresh revelations on each occasion. A late-appearing review in the local daily, in the 2nd week of the season, was nonetheless unstinting in its praise, which of course lifted telephones all over town and eventually gave this intrepid little troupe the sold-out end to the season they deserved. Good…but never underestimate the power, and therefore the ethics, of the timing of a dance review. (Other early reviews had appeared but were more about the writer than the show).

I see more clearly now what has proved so satisfying about this brilliant little, crazy little work. I say ‘little’ because there’s a cast of five, musos included. The show lasts 75 mins, and the venue is intimate. The more miraculous that the dancing is full and generous, fast and slow and still, requiring total torso and limbs all the way through. The three dancers work to the very edges of the stage. You feel the draught as they race by. You can see every hip tilt, shoulder blade, neck curve and ankle stretch, every toe and finger tip (these are verbs not nouns) and there’s not a falter to be found. It’s high dance classicism in disguise, with a drizzle of cabaret jus and very naughty it is too. After numerous extraordinary encounters with surrealism, the girl and the guy eventually make it. That’s a lovely way to let us out into the evening air.

It seems to me that many choreographic ventures over the last five years, maybe more, have shown a trend of apologising as regards dance vocabulary—born, I suppose, of a desire to eschew existing conventions and to seek novelty. Effectively that results in a fractured, often arhythmic, set of hesitant gestures that question meaning and express doubt, offering relativity of position rather than allowing certainty or clarity, resolution, commitment. Such semaphore-like movement of arms and hands effectively asks questions but does not want answers. Don’t get me wrong. I ask questions all the time and many of them are rhetorical… as in ‘Do you love me?’ [not that I actually ask that one of course]. The price we pay for this contemporary post-modern sensibility and fix on innovation is the absence of line and vitality in dancing, and of synopsis or resolution in choreography.

It’s also frequent practice nowadays for a choreographer to give tasks to dancers in workshop fashion, to ‘ask them questions’, and take their resulting ‘answers’, shaping them this way and that into what is then identified as ‘choreography’. This was of course the choreographic practice of Pina Bausch. She was pure choreographic genius of theatre and her instincts caught life on the wing. Imitation of her, or any other art practice, will ever be only that, and worth not a lot, despite that we are surrounded by it, and very well funded it often is too. ‘Creativity in the moment of choreographic collaboration’ sounds like hogwash to me. I prefer Yeats, see below.

Dynamics of light and shade in the fully committed dancing body that is not fearful of itself seem like a rare treat nowadays. Douglas Wright always offered that in spades, but he doesn’t choreograph any more. Lobsters has caught it, thank goodness.

So an accolade please, to Lucy Marinkovich, for choreographing a stunning and super little show that scores top marks on every front. You can tell, come the curtain call, how much they have all enjoyed performing, but there’s no such distracting evidence allowed during the actual performance, with the intense concentration and stylized espression required of each. We laugh a lot but they don’t—until the curtain call.

The music is superbly imagined and delivered, with music and cabaret audiences as well catered for as they might wish. Lucien Johnson has extraordinary talents, including double blowing into his saxophone (Is that normal? Who cares? It works).

Carmel McGlone is Salvador Dali’s lobster, and he would have been struck dumb by her performance.

Lucy will want to share that accolade with dramaturg Miranda Manasiadis who most certainly knows what she is doing. Two years of shared thoughts and preparations between them is how you get a scenario like this. Frequently of late we see ‘dramaturg’ listed in the credits for a dance show but there’s often little evidence of drama in the result, and it really only means another fee for a member of the ‘creative team’. [RNZB’s The Wizard of Oz, and more recent Romeo & Juliet would be two cases in point. It was the beautiful dancers who delivered on those occasions, and we loved them for it, but drama in the production was little in evidence]. So if there’s to be any point in involving a dramaturg, there’s an art involved in a choreographer allowing space for that work.

By repeated viewings of a performance we get a chance to think some more about the lines by W.B Yeats (my favourite) quote:

‘O body swayed to music, o brightening glance
How can we know the dancer from the dance?’

… in other words – how do the performance and choreography relate, intertwine? It can often be hard to tell. In RNZB’s recent Romeo & Juliet, the contrasting casts in the lead roles at different performances gave us a chance to see how. Mayu Tanigaito and Kohei Iwamoto at a matinee transformed the choreography from ‘very good’ by their performance into something ‘stratospheric’, but the critical record has been silent on that, and there is no photographic or videoed evidence of it, which some of us find sad, verging on very sad.

Leah McLean of Borderline Publicity is the best dance administrator I’ve encountered since the longest time. Lobsters really is a team effort and every one of them should take a bow, then pack their bags for the numerous festival invitations that are bound to come their way. Keep your eye on the hustings.

Jennifer Shennan, 5 November 2017

Lucien Johnson, Carmel McGlone, Emmanuel Reynaud, Lucy Marinkovich. and Matthew Moore in 'Lobsters', 2017. Photo: Philip Merry

Featured image: Lucien Johnson, Carmel McGlone, Emmanuel Reynaud, Lucy Marinkovich. and Matthew Moore in Lobsters, 2017. Photo: © Philip Merry

Featured image:

Final scene, Le baiser de la fee, Birmingham Royal Ballet, 2017

‘Arcadia’, ‘Le baiser de la fée’, ‘Still life at the Penguin Café’. Birmingham Royal Ballet

4 November 2017, Sadler’s Wells, London

This triple bill from Birmingham Royal Ballet began with Arcadia, a new work from company dancer Ruth Brill, continued with Michael Corder’s take on Le baiser de la fée, and concluded with David Bintley’s Still life at the Penguin Café, a work whose title has intrigued me for years, although this was my first opportunity to see it.

Arcadia told a story about the god Pan, half human, half animal, and his relations with those who share his world, both his fellow supernatural beings and his human subjects. The work opened beautifully thanks to atmospheric lighting by Peter Teigen, which shrouded a semi-crouching Pan in a mysterious haze. There was some nice, if not world-shattering choreography, especially for Pan who was danced by Brandon Lawrence. He leaped and bounded, and stretched his body as he swept his arms in all directions. But had I not read the program notes I would never have guessed that we were meant to be watching Pan in two moods, frustrated at first and then at peace with himself after the intervention of Selene, goddess of the moon. Perhaps the music, a composition by John Harle originally for violin, piano and soprano saxophone and specially orchestrated for this ballet, was partly the problem. While it was jazzy and made great listening, there didn’t seem to be enough variation in musical mood for Pan’s change of mood to be felt. But it was not helped by the fact that choreographically and dramaturgically that mood change didn’t happen. The dancers just danced on as if nothing had happened.

On the other hand, I thought Corder’s Baiser de la fée, danced to the Stravinsky score and based on Hans Christian Andersen’s The ice maiden, was beautifully structured so the story unfolded clearly and strongly, even given the complexities of the storyline. True, it was quite classical in format—it even had a form of grand pas de deux in the second scene when the Young Man (Lachlan Monaghan), whose fate was sealed when he was kissed as a baby by the Fairy (Jenna Roberts), dances with the bride as she prepares for the nuptials. For some that grand pas might make the work a little old-fashioned, but I loved the clarity of the piece and the way it moved inexorably to the finale when the Fairy claims the Young Man. And the designs by John F. Macfarlane were stunning in their decorative elements and in their use of colour to heighten both mood and the nature of the various characters.

I was fascinated by Still life at the Penguin Café. It dates back to 1988 but its theme of issues surrounding endangered species is still as valid as it was back then. Is there still life for some species who today teeter on the brink of extinction, or are they still life as we understand a still life painting? However we may interpret that title (and there is room for both), Still life at the Penguin Café is a remarkable series of sketches, each one referring to a different species at risk, mostly hilarious on the surface, and always delightfully costumed (design by Hayden Griffin). I guess while the issue of endangered species is not to be mocked, there is room, as Bintley has done, to bring it to our attention in a light-hearted, episodic way. Full marks to the dancers who grabbed the opportunity to display their skills with special mention to Edivaldo Souza da Silva as the Southern Cape Zebra, not to mention those delightful penguin waiters.

I am a big fan of triple bill programs. But it is rare to get a triple bill where every work delivers what media releases tell us it will be like. This program wasn’t an example of such rarity but there was a lot to enjoy.

Michelle Potter, 5 November 2017

Featured image: Finale to Le baiser de la fée, Birmingham Royal Ballet. Photo: © Bill Cooper

Final scene, Le baiser de la fee, Birmingham Royal Ballet, 2017

Restraint(s)

‘Restraint(s).’ Ken Unsworth & Australian Dance Artists

28 October 2017, Ken Unsworth Studios, Alexandria (Sydney)

I am a long-term admirer of Ken Unsworth’s sculpture, especially his various suspended stones sculptures. I have often wondered what it would be like to give those stones a push to see what motion would ensue. Well, Restraint(s), a work that should probably be described as performance art, put my mind at ease to a certain extent. Unsworth clearly enjoys making sculpture and installations that move, or can be moved. No doubt the suspended stones would move too, although I don’t think I’ll be trying it out any time soon!

Unsworth has worked with the four dancers of Australian Dance Artists—Susan Barling, Anca Frankenhaeuser, Patrick Harding-Irmer and Ross Philip, and their associate Norman Hall—over several years, most recently using his Alexandria studios as a performing space. Restraint(s) showcased several Unsworth objects that, as the title of the work suggests, put various restraints on the dancers, although the dancers never looked restrained. They simply used each sculpture/installation in an exploratory manner—how can the body move within or around a moving three-dimensional item or items. In the opening section they pushed the very pushable boundaries of a kind of boxing ring made up of stretch ropes. This was, for me anyway, the least interesting of the several sections that made up the evening.

Susan Barling and Anca Frankenhaeuser in 'Restraint(s)', 2017. Photo: © Mike Buick

Susan Barling and Anca Frankenhaeuser in Restraint(s), 2017. Photo: © Mike Buick

Much more interesting was an early section performed by Susan Barling and Anca Frankenhaeuser in which they engaged with a very large golden ring (a bit like a circus cyr wheel), which changed colour at various times. The wheel was slowly lowered from an exposed part of the ceiling that revealed a machine-for-lowering-and-manipulating-rings-and-other-things. The ring was at times in mid-air, parallel to the floor, but at other times was manipulated from the hole in the ceiling so that it stood on edge, vertical to the floor. Barling and Frankenhaeuser wore simple, long-ish dresses that had a hoop inserted into the circular hemline, thus mirroring Unsworth’s ring. They moved around, alongside, inside and over the ring, depending on how it was positioned. Towards the end they flung their skirts up so that the ring in the hemline framed their faces. A very interesting variation on a cyr wheel performance.

I also enjoyed a surprising section involving two sliding floor boards that moved in opposite directions across the width of the performing space. Initially they simply seemed like regular floor boards but, as Barling and Frankenhaeuser began to pose on them, the boards began to move. The dancers’ poses became varied—sometimes they stood, other times they reclined as they took a ride back and forth across the space. Ross Philip joined them and began to pose with them, over them, and around them. This became an exercise in maintaining one’s balance and keeping within one’s space.

Then towards the end there was a somewhat mysterious section that involved Patrick Harding-Irmer and three white (plaster?), human-sized dummies. Harding-Irmer, dressed in black trunks and black caftan with hood, and carrying a long black stick, danced around the dummies, occasionally moving them to another position in the space, sometimes pushing and balancing them with his stick, and occasionally mirroring their various static poses.  This section segued seamlessly into the finale when a large structure, consisting of a circular platform holding four tall glass panels, with a peacock etched on each one, was pushed into the space and connected to that hole in the ceiling. The glass panels divided the structure into quarters and as it spun around, Harding-Irmer was joined by the other three dancers, also dressed in black, and the company dashed in and out of the spinning spaces.

Susan Barling and Ross Philip in 'Restraint(s)', 2017. Photo: © Mike Buick

Susan Barling and Ross Philip in Restraint(s), 2017. Photo: © Mike Buick

I guess what I really enjoyed about this show was its coherent concept and the versatility with which the concept was presented. I definitely found some sections more interesting to watch than others. The one that had the most inventive and polished movement came from Barling and Philip who worked like aerial artists in a forest of hanging ropes. But every section had been thought through carefully. The use of colour, the costume design, the music (original score by Kate Moore) all focussed on the concept. And there was an innate and refreshing simplicity in how the evening was strung together. Initially I thought it might be a little like the experimental performance art that people like Rauschenberg, Cunningham, Cage (and others) were making in New York in the 1960s and 1970s. And in many respects it was, except that it was not quite so wacky. There was coherence amid the eccentricity. Well done!

Michelle Potter, 30 October 2017

‘Lobsters.’ Borderline Arts Ensemble

21 October–4 November 2017, Circa Theatre, Wellington

Reviewed by Jennifer Shennan

Edward James, wealthy English arts patron, eccentric and capricious, good on him, commissioned Salvador Dali to create work—the famous Lobster telephone (also the Mae West lips sofa…) were among the results. Of four telephones produced, one is in the collection of National Gallery of Australia—so it follows, probably, that Australian readers will be interested to know that a little show, Lobsters, all about Dali, et al surrealists, has just opened a fortnight season in Circa Theatre, Wellington. The Lobster is onstage centre for most of the riotously wonderful evening.

It’s a little stunner—a cast of five, including musicians on stage. The show will travel well, and should definitely be seen on both sides of the Tasman, and beyond.

It’s a work a few years in the making but shows no sign of fatigue. There are ideas and images floating and sloping through the 75 minute show that intrigue, surprise, amuse, delight, entertain, titillate, wow and console by turns… and generally make you want to go back for a second viewing. This is a brilliant exploration of the surreal, and should resonate widely with art appreciators as well as dance followers.

Lucy Marinkovich is the choreographic driver. She also dances, quite stunningly (though no surprise in that as she has always been a svelte and striking performer. Her rendition of Doris Humphrey’s Two Ecstatic Themes here a few years back will be long remembered). But this work is a major choreographic development for her, and the harnessing into the cast of Carmel McGlone, as The Lobster, is a masterstroke. McGlone has long been a theatrical sensation as actor, singer and comedian on the Wellington stage, and she here manages the challenges of dancing as well with admirable aplomb.

Lucy Marinkovich, Emmanuel Reynaud and Matthew Moore in 'Lobsters'. Photo: Philip Merry

Lucy Marinkovich, Emmanuel Reynaud and Matthew Moore in Lobsters. Photo: Philip Merry

Lucien Johnson as on-stage musician is also the composer of the varied, sophisticated, hilariously conceived accompaniment. He is suave and urbane, and his saxophone playing leaves you breathless though seems not to have that effect on him.

Two highly competent male dancers, Emmanuel Reynaud and Matthew Moore, complete the cast and are fully focused to the atmosphere and structure of the work.

Ask your local festival talent scout to check out Lobsters. The extremely efficient production team, including dramaturg Miranda Manasiadis, will be back in touch by lunchtime.

Jennifer Shennan, 26 October 2017

Lucy Marinkovich in a study for LobstersPhoto: © Philip Merry

Eliza Sanders, Alison Plevey and Jack Riley in 'Seamless'. Australian Dance Party, 2017. Photo © Lorna Sim

‘Seamless.’ Australian Dance Party

21 October 2017, Haig Park, Canberra. Floriade Fringe

This year Floriade, Canberra’s annual floral display in celebration of the arrival of Spring, got an addition—Floriade Fringe. Spread over three days, 19–21 October, it was, like all Fringe Festivals, a mixed bag of offerings across a range of alternative endeavours in the arts, and in assorted other areas. But it also had an artist (or rather artists) in residence—Alison Plevey and her Australian Dance Party. Australian Dance Party at this stage in its development is still a pickup company with dancers changing from work to work. On this occasion, the company consisted of Plevey, Jack Riley and Eliza Sanders. The specially commissioned work was Seamless and it took a look at the fashion industry.

We have come to see Plevey’s work as an unapologetic comment on those aspects of society and politics that she feels strongly about. Seamless began by taking a look at models and their behaviour, and the stage that was set up in Haig Park was T-shaped in the manner of a catwalk. The dancers wore an amazing assortment of clothing, from grunge to glamour (not to mention underwear). Bouquets to Nina Gbor and Charne Esterhuizen for their contribution here. Plevey was a standout in this section as she strutted down the catwalk, mocking the distinctive walk models use.

Alison Plevey in 'Seamless'. Floriade Fringe, 2017. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Alison Plevey in Seamless. Australian Dance Party, Floriade Fringe, 2017. Photo: © Lorna Sim

But I also enjoyed the slightly supercilious attitude each of the dancers presented as they posed in various ways. Plevey also made a comment on the shape and size of models, and the attention their thinness has attracted recently. She pushed and poked her body and watched it in shadow-form on the back screen as she tried to make herself look as thin as possible.

But the work moved on to comment on other aspects of the fashion industry. Against the background of footage of sewing machines relentlessly and repetitively sewing seams, the three dancers, dressed in white, unadorned pants and tops, danced out a similarly repetitive and relentless series of moves. This section, which seemed overly long (although perhaps with the right intent), I assume was a comment on factories churning out fast fashion. There were other sections, however, that left me a little lost. I wasn’t really sure about the wrapping of Riley in a diaphanous purple cloth, although it was interesting to watch.

Jack Riley (centre) with Eliza Sanders and Alison Plevey in Seamless. Australian Dance Party, Floriade Fringe, 2017. Photo: © Lorna Sim

Towards the end the three dancers ‘engaged’ with an assortment of clothing, dressing themselves with as much as they could fit on and swapping items with each other. This was fun to watch too and I guess had to do with recycling clothing—an op shop experience gone wild.

While I felt not all the sections were clearly articulated, Seamless was an interesting, outdoor, evening event and was wonderfully danced by all three performers. I continue to be surprised at what Plevey and her dancers get up to, and think we in Canberra are lucky to have Australian Dance Party performing as much as they do with so little mainstream funding support. Plevey just picks up opportunities, wherever they may be, and runs with them

Michelle Potter, 23 October 2017

Featured image: (l–r) Eliza Sanders, Alison Plevey and Jack Riley in Seamless. Australian Dance Party, Floriade Fringe, 2017. Photo © Lorna Sim

Eliza Sanders, Alison Plevey and Jack Riley in 'Seamless'. Australian Dance Party, 2017. Photo © Lorna Sim

‘Tree of Codes.’ Melbourne Festival, 2017

18 October 2017 (matinee), State Theatre, Arts Centre, Melbourne

Choreography: Wayne McGregor
Visual concept: Olafur Eliasson
Music: Jamie XX
Inspired by The Tree of Codes, a novel/artwork by Jonathan Safran Foer

It is absolutely undeniable that Tree of Codes, a dance highlight at the 2017 Melbourne Festival, is an astonishing act of collaboration. I sat through the entire 70 minutes of the show wondering about those scrims, mirrored screens, arches of light that seemed also to be caves, and the final huge metal structure with revolving cut-out circles of glass/perspex/something that reminded me (partially or at times anyway) of an art deco doorway and a Tiffany lamp all rolled into one. I have never really seen such theatrically in visual design. And the design included lighting that spread its way around the stage and the auditorium, in many shapes and colours and patterns and even made the stage appear to tilt forward and back at times (at least I think it happened via the lighting). Into all this, 14 dancers—two from the Paris Opera Ballet, 11 from Company Wayne McGregor, and guest artist Mara Galeazzi—wove their way through McGregor’s highly physical choreography to the very loud, sometimes melodic, sometimes driving score by Jamie XX.

In retrospect I can’t help wondering why I didn’t get visual and aural indigestion from what seemed to be a surfeit of elements. But I didn’t. The elements came together well, although in a way that was often puzzling. How did it happen, what were the technical aspects of it? It was so spectacular and unusual that it was impossible not to wonder and wonder.

'Tree of Codes.' Photo: Joel Chester Fildes

Tree of Codes. Photo: © Joel Chester Tildes

Despite the colour and sound, the most interesting moments for me came from the dancers. I especially enjoyed the work of Lucie Fenwick from the Paris Opera Ballet and Daniela Neugebauer from Company Wayne McGregor. They were outstanding individually, especially Fenwick who danced on pointe but who made dancing on pointe so à la McGregor. But there was a magnificent section towards the end where they danced a dialogue with each other, interacting with such joyous momentum that they pretty much stole the show. Of the men I admired the extraordinarily fluid movement of Jacob O’Connell of Company Wayne McGregor. But my favourites should be seen as just that, my pick. Every dancer accomplished the tasks set with power and unbelievable energy.

'Tree of Codes.' Photo: Zan Wimberley

Tree of Codes. Photo: © Zan Wimberley

Tree of Codes is perhaps not the masterpiece that the media releases would have us believe. In terms of McGregor’s work that I have seen to date Woolf Works continues to stand out, as do some of his shorter works made for the Royal Ballet and his FAR for Random Dance. But Tree of Codes was more than entertaining and has set the bar high as an extraordinary collaborative work.

Michelle Potter, 21 October 2017

Featured image: Tree of Codes. Photo: © Ravi Deepres

Katie Rudd in 'Lost + Found'. Tempo Dance Festival, 2017. Photo Carol Brown Design Kasia Pol

‘Lost + Found [dances of exile]’. Tempo Dance Festival

6 October 2017. Q Theatre complex, Auckland. Choreography: Carol Brown

Reviewed by Jennifer Shennan

This layered work of a ‘reactivated archival material from former Bodenwieser dancers including Shona Dunlop MacTavish, Hilary Napier and Hilde Holger’ is presented as an itinerant event with audience members following dancers and narrator as they move through the out-back, off-stage spaces of the Q Theatre complex. Spoken introductions are interspersed with fragments of dance by couples and triples in stairwells, corridors and half-way spaces that suggest history is at best caught piecemeal and personally.

Film and sound excerpts are included en route but you receive all these as random mosaic rather than linear sequence. The audience finally assembles in the foyer for the projection onto a split screen of fragments from Bodenwieser dancers, paralleled with new sequences by the present performers, who are members of the New Zealand Dance Company. I personally would have appreciated more sequential use of that historical footage, with identification of who and what we were watching. Bodenwieser unleashed and encouraged such expressionist commitment from her dancers, a quality that today’s performers would do well to be reminded of.

I would have dearly loved to see a performance of a complete short work, say Bodenwieser’s Demon Machine, from 1924, interpolated into Lost + Found. (It’s not impossible. This after all was a highly acclaimed, prize-winning work in the same choreographic competition in Paris that saw Kurt Jooss win first prize for his Der Grüne Tisch/The Green Table. Dunlop is alive and spirited still today, and was in fact present at this season. Brown was herself in an early New Zealand staging of the work in 1970s, as were students at New Zealand School of Dance in 1980s, and reconstruction can be aided by the fact that the choreography also exists in Laban notation score). ‘The machine gains ascendancy over the souls of the people instead of man dominating the machine. The vital problem of our age’ … reads the original 1924 program note. More than 90 years later, there is resonance in our age of digital burn-out that represents so much contemporary communication.

The arresting image on the program cover, of Shona Dunlop in her own solo, Two souls alas, reside within my breast (as I recall, this was the first choreography not by Bodenwieser in that company repertoire), is collaged with the ecstatic backward lean of Dunlop as Cain in Cain and Abel, but both these images remain unidentified and uncaptioned.

Many of those attending will have found the mystery and unpredicability of this work an engaging and refreshing experience. I personally find some degree of distraction in the encounters with other audience members that are inevitable as we move from space to space, and from the curious tone of narration that accompanied the work. That said, I did catch some fragments of exquisite intertwined arm movements by two women in the stairwell, and wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Perhaps history is made up only of such fragments and memories?

Jennifer Shennan, 15 October 2017

Featured image: Katie Rudd in Lost + Found. Tempo Dance Festival, 2017. Photo: Carol Brown. Design: Kasia Pol

Katie Rudd in 'Lost + Found'. Tempo Dance Festival, 2017. Photo Carol Brown Design Kasia Pol

Sir Jon Trimmer and William Fitzgerald in 'Lark' from 'whY Cromozone'. Tempo Dance Festival, 2017. Photo: © Amanda Billing

‘whY Chromozone.’ Tempo Dance Festival

7 October 2017, Q Theatre, Auckland.

Reviewed by Jennifer Shennan

Tempo Dance Festival has always had a program slot, Y Chromozone, for an exclusively male line-up of choreographers and dancers to do their thing.

I remember it in previous years being overlong, over compered, and in need of more insightful programme notes—but as one who thinks gender has little to do with choreographic vision anyway, I was always going to be hard to convince of the concept. (I know, I know, I’m in a minority here, but I am a member of many minority groups and that is no bother to me, per se). OK, let’s to the dance…

The first listed item did not happen, but there was no announcement to warn us of that. That’s a serious issue for a reviewer working in the dark through a program of 13 separate items without interval. I don’t usually take notes during a performance but prefer to remember what is memorable, consulting the program before and after. For that to work, you don’t want the second item playing as the first.

That said, the opener was stunning—Not, choreographed and performed by Oliver Carruthers, to music Tourists by Nicolas Jaar. He was carried onstage in a twisted knot which then unfolded, limb by twist, to open finally into the straight line of his body. A secure mover this one, from Unitec.

Asmodeus, choreographed and performed by Jay Clement (to Arsonist’s Lullaby by Hosier), a gymnast harnessing extraordinary strength and balance. He spent most of the dance upside down, on the palm of one hand, legs airborne, slowly rotating on top of three poles, in a delicious slow-motion dance that held tight to its music, thus allowing poetry to emerge from its power.

Enough, choreographed by val smith, was performed by two great wild things swathed in 1000 shaggy sheepskins. They edged on walking sticks hesitantly and painfully from downstage left to upstage right. About mid-stage they rolled over each other, and one great monster pulled apart to become two—so I guess you could say they sprogged. They then continued the pilgrimage across the stage. These were creatures that Maurice Sendak might have designed. Music is identified as ‘anonymous vaporwave track pirated from a gay porn site’. Well, they said it. The whole strange hilarious thing was possibly a metaphor, depending on what you want from your metaphors.

Me, Myself But Why? choreographed by Stephen Hidalgo, performed by Stephen Hidalgo and Stephen Hidalgo. This screen-to-stage conversation between ‘himselves’ as screen figure and on-stage dancer was played with brilliant timing and a sharp dry wit that had us in stitches. Lucky this isn’t a competition as we’ve had four winners already and we’re not even a third of the way through the program.

This is a thing, choreographed and performed by Connor Masseurs, to Freefallin Dreams by Saje, was a contemplative solo at times reminiscent of a breakdancing insect, at other times a beguiling man. No program note to profile the dancer, just an obtuse paragraph that did no justice to the interesting textures of the very well-shaped dance we saw.

Dane Head, a 14 year old pupil of Allan Barry at Mt. Eden Ballet Academy, performed the peasant pas male variation from Giselle. His impressively clean technique and sound musicality, coupled with his obvious delight in dancing, made for a pleasant experience for him and us, both.

Outcast by Fenjay Sapon was a quartet of Unitec dancers often pitching one against three. Confident in their strength and their ability to build atmosphere, their use of rhythms and canon added interesting depth to this piece.

Liberate-He, by Earl de Castro was a thrust of waacking and voguing, tight jeans and high heels, all pitch perfect.

Joe Carvalho performed a mesmerising solo on an acrobatic circus apparatus, the cyr wheel. Harnessed through music, A Little Walk to Nowhere by Brain Damage, this performance brought Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian man, after waiting 530 years in a manuscript, to spend time with us. This was a miracle of true proportion and conversation with gravity. Carvalho’s heroic performance was delivered with a modesty that will not easily be forgotten

Lark, choreographed by Loughlan Prior, of Royal New Zealand Ballet, performed by Jon Trimmer and William Fitzgerald, proved a masterwork. There’s little surprise in that since Prior has already earned considerable choreographic kudos. 78 year-old Trimmer’s presence on stage, before he even moves a muscles, reeks with the authenticity of a performer who deeply knows how dance works. Fitzgerald moves with a calm clarity that makes virtuosity seem effortless, and his elevation is something to savour. Suffice to say this piece portraying an older dancer as he sifts memories of dances past, alongside a younger dancer’s questing after the kinds of things that will bring meaning to his future performances, had a poignancy to treasure.

Blue Bird, by Christopher Olwage, has recently been performed as part of Viennese Pride celebrations in Austria and we can be sure it received the same audience appreciation there as here. To Young and Beautiful by Lana Del Ray, the dancer en pointe and with costume of blue feathers that were shed in stages, suggested a cabaret twilight of happiness tinged with yearning.

The final slot, Idco Next Generation—Swagganauts, is a team of nine young Hip Hop dancers who have all the cut and thrust of seasoned street dance. Precision, speed, agility, cool, and a cap with the peak going down the back are all stitched in place so’s you couldn’t slip a knife between the moves. Josh Cesan should take credit for this spirited finale.

Jennifer Shennan, 15 October 2017

Featured image: Sir Jon Trimmer and William Fitzgerald in Lark from whY Cromozone. Tempo Dance Festival, 2017. Photo: © Amanda Billing

Sir Jon Trimmer and William Fitzgerald in 'Lark' from 'whY Cromozone'. Tempo Dance Festival, 2017. Photo: © Amanda Billing