What the Body Does Not Remember
13/3/15 - The Lowry, Salford
Fierce, visceral and relevant. If I had to describe this Ultima Vez revival in three words those would be my chosen ones, which is quite an achievement for a work which debuted 28 years ago. It is difficult to believe that this piece was made in 1987, before I was even born. The gripping choreography, the experimental and physical way of working with bodies must have been ground-breaking, as I still find it utterly compelling today.
Wim Vandekeybus is the ultimate movement experimenter, and to think that this piece was his first work – well it’s understandable why he’s had such a long and impressive career. Each scene slowly builds into a perfectly timed crescendo, with dancers hurling bricks, throwing themselves into one another and writhing around on the floor. Every action involves a huge risk, and every dancer executes each movement with a powerful intention. The intention in their bodies is real – it is not performed deliberately as part of their act, in fact none of What the Body Does Not Remember feels like a dance performance created to please the audience. The dancers’ intention is real, as if they don’t move exactly when they need to or exactly as rehearsed, they are likely to get hurt.
Aside from the dramatic and thrilling aspects of the performance, it is equally as enjoyable to notice the more stripped back side of Vandekeybus’ choreography. Subtle humour is included in most sections, and best of all the set didn’t include wings. Dancers strolled off stage, casually undressed and collected props at each side of the stage which are usually hidden from view – further establishing bodies purely as vehicles for movement, and breaking down the barriers of performance.
There are two duet sections which stand out for me – the first is primal, animalistic, aggressive and provocative. The final scene includes a number of duets with one dancer on the floor and one in a standing position, the standing body manipulating and intimidating the body on the floor in what seems like a million different ways. Bodies stomp and jump ferociously around their prey, as the audience is transfixed by every intense movement.
Personally I really enjoyed watching the female dancers in this piece. They are just as strong as the males, performing all the same movements, risking just as much and executing just as much power and control. Strong and fierce, I believed they could do anything on that stage.
For me, I’m not sure anyone has really pushed the boundaries of dance and physical theatre like Wim Vandekeybus. His first piece, nearly three decades on, holds more standing and is more impressive than anything I have seen recently. That includes Jasmin Vardimon’s Park, which I watched at The Lowry the week before. As much as I enjoyed it – I love her political and social messages which are entwined with powerful yet intricate choreography - overall the work seemed to lack coherency and structure, the meaning and intention getting lost in parts. With Ultima Vez each scene or section has a clear ending and a new beginning, and you are so captivated by what the bodies on stage are doing that it doesn’t really matter why. But of course, delve deeper, and you will always find a satisfying interpretation.
The revival of What the Body Does Not Remember is currently touring the UK – catch it while you can.
West Side Story
02/01/14 – Palace Theatre, Manchester
Joey McKneely’s vibrant adaptation of Jerome Robbins’ fresh take on Romeo and Juliet is a joyful pastime. The two New York gangs, the Jets and the Sharks take the deep resentment and bitterness to a new level as they glide, spin and jump around the stage in their designated groups. The enlightening ensemble pieces were the best parts for me, with the separate unison from the boys and the girls almost faultless. The stage also comes alive when it is bursting with dancing couples, once again in competition to be better than their rivals.
The highlight by far was America, where the Puerto Rican ladies showed off their fine dancing ability and personalities. The thrilling choreography is successful throughout in telling the classic story without being literal; graceful fights, elegant rumbles and charming gang challenges somehow still deliver the raw rage and brutality needed to convey the plot. Simple gestures such as a stomp of the foot or a sharp snap of the fingers go hand in hand with the spectacular score to enhance Robbins’ narrative.
One of the much-loved numbers in West Side Story, Somewhere was unfortunately disappointing. A brave new approach resulted in the whole cast coming onstage in clichéd white costumes to create this perfect world for the main characters. The partner work and lifts for the booming notes of ‘Somewhere…Someday…Somehow’ were beautiful, but the rest felt naïve and dated – one is left wondering why this celebrated scene wasn’t left in the capable hands and voices of Maria and Tony.
A failed utopia cast aside, the overall production was a show-stopping affair taking the audience on an emotional journey. The drama of young love, the family feuds, the highlighted American social problems, the testosterone fuelled fights, the heartbreak of loss – it is all purely experienced. Complimented with the impressive choreography, this is probably the best dance musical I’ve seen in years.
Vanguard - The Australian Ballet, 17/6/13
Vanguard is a timeline of "ballet game changers," showcasing works by three internationally celebrated choreographers.
George Balanchine's Four Temperaments displays the most impressive ballet technique, without a tutu in sight. Choreographed in 1946, it can't be described as anything but ballet; but minor changes in movement such as the odd bent supporting leg and pedestrian arm sequences, plus the lack of storytelling led the way for ballet choreographers to move away from content and meaning. The uniformed costuming also made a statement, as the principals wore the same plain leotard and tights as the ensemble, enhancing the lines in the movement.
In Bella Figura, the dancers have ditched their pointe shoes and tights, and some have lost the rest of their clothes as well. Abstract and beautiful, with interesting and original stage production, it is hard to believe this piece is almost twenty years old. I pre empted that Kylian's piece would be my favourite of the triple bill, and undoubtedly it was. The clever lighting design, and theatrical elements such as the dancers interacting with the set, created a magical atmosphere which the sharp yet graceful choreography intensified. Kylian's work is always inspiring, and leaves you wishing the performance never ended.
Wayne McGregor's Dyad 1929 is the most recent work in the timeline. Choreographed in 2009, it is completely removed and defiant from ballet's rooted emotion. There is so much happening on the stage, with the crazy lighting and set design creating a bright feast for the eyes. The ears are not forgotten, as the random sounds of Reich's Double Sextet compliment the unusual and striking movement. The piece builds to a loud crescendo, finishing with the dancers fiercely executing McGregor's hallucinatory style.
Turn Festival 3-5 May 2012. Contact Theatre, Manchester
Turn Festival has been hosted by Contact this year, as a Green Room Legacy project. With a selection of unknown talent from around the region, Turn has something for everyone, including the chance to perform your first Wedding dance, watch a wrestling match in an office, and witness a young girl give in to her most impulsive thoughts. (Most unforgettably emptying a bowl of noodles all over herself). Unfortunately I couldn’t attend all three nights, but here are a few of my highlights…
Emma Lansley and Eve Stainton created the perfect opening to Friday’s evening’s performances. Better Because I wear Vintage offered a light and humorous approach to the current trend of wearing dated clothing and acting kitsch. A Conversation: Part 1 offered an intelligent response to psychological topics such as sanity and obedience. Mainly using text to open the duet, the piece then developed into some interesting, fluid movement. I hope this is a work in progress by Hannah Buckley and Dwayne Antony, as it left me wanting to see more. Moving on to my absolute favourite – Work Songs by the dangerologists. On paper, this piece explores ‘masculinity in the office [and the] mindless drudgery and hopeless alienation that is the normal working day.’ In physicality, it is so much more – the two male dancers produce a comical, physically brutal performance, which escalates into a violent conflict. The performers have amazing acting ability, and deliver truly convincible characters, which most of the audience could probably relate to. This piece will no doubt inspire many people to leave their monotonous office jobs and start living.
Hofesh Shecter – Political Mother, The Lowry, Salford. 27/4/12
The programme states ‘Shecter’s first full length work burst onto the world stage in 2010 and since then has been an unstoppable force, touring the world to great acclaim.’ This is due to the mesmerising ensemble pieces, consisting of raw, committed movement and powerful images. Exploring themes of power, oppression and conformity – which are a common trend recently – the dancers take the audience on a painful journey to subjection and back again, in which the choreographer allows the dancers’ individuality come to light.
The element that sets Politcal Mother aside from many other contemporary dance pieces is the choice of a live band and the bold style of music. The musicians are such a part of the staging, and make up almost half of the performers, that Shecter has made a whole performance genre of his own. The daring, deafening music dramatically increased the atmosphere throughout the piece, and continually created the tension. It is fair to say that without the rock music/ gig element, the dancing would be rather underwhelming. Having said that, Political Mother is still an undeniable masterpiece, and I doubt the ‘unstoppable force’ of the piece worldwide is about to slow down.
Dance Fragments, Luton. 8/12/11
The triple bill began with Sarah Levinsky’s Plastic Island, which constructed a landscape of plastic carrier bags centre stage. The piece consisted of four female solos, each entering the stage and interacting with the bags to create different relationships. Each dancer displayed a sense of individuality within their movement, and the most impressive element to this performance was the realisation that all the dancers were improvising. As the night’s pieces were all works in progress, Levinsky had decided not to set anything at this stage of her investigation. Plastic Island delivered an intense, alienated atmosphere which transported the audience to another world – or foreign island as the title insinuates. The sculpture of carrier bags added connotations of mass consumerism and environmental issues, and I predict the concluding product to be captivating.
Kolesk Dance’s Julia Cheng followed the first piece with her solo, Hat & Ball. Whilst Cheng has an undeniable original, interesting movement style and stage presence, the choreography completely lacked sophistication. The title left nothing to the imagination – the piece centred around a hat and a ball for choreographic inspiration. However, the solo received good feedback from the members of the audience from a non-dance background, who could relate to the non-narrative style and enjoyed the hybrid mix of dance styles that Cheng always delivers.
The Hat Factory saved the best till last as Helen Parlor ended the night with her new work Close/Distance. This piece of dance theatre used interesting characters to give a voyeuristic insight into the minds of those people who live nearby and we pass regularly in the street – but don’t bother to interact with. The performers delivered well executed lines to enhance the dancing narrative, and all gave incredibly believable performances. It was hard to believe that this piece was also in the early stages of development, as the relationships between the dancers seemed so natural that one would presume they had worked together for years – when in fact in reality it was just ten days. Close/Distance was dynamic and thought provoking, and I am waiting with baited breath to watch the final production when it tours next year.
Odissi Ensemble – Shades of Love. Luton 17/11/11
Having never experienced an Asian Dance performance, I was an eager audience member anticipating Odissi Ensemble’s debut showing of Shades of Love. So were plenty of others, as the crowded theatre in Luton’s Hat Factory was buzzing with excitement. As the dancers enter the theatre in darkness, the anticipation rises with the jingle of the bells around their feet. This leads into the first of seven individual dances, in which each one tells a different story, and the bells induce a rhythm that always matches perfectly with the music.
The style itself is definitely separated from the stereotypical Indian dance that is now commercialised. The intricate and unique isolations are delivered by the dancers with such precision, along with a great sense of musicality towards the choreography. The dances also demand a high level of expression within the face, and at times the dancers are literally miming situations, to engage the audience in the story. Some could find this a bit too literal, but I thought it was conveyed well and gave a context to the pieces that needed it. Other sections did not have a set theme and relied mainly on the musical –bodily connection; yet even in these pieces strong relationships between the dancers were evident. The classical choice of colourful costume, jewellery and make up added to the glamour and culture of Odissi and complemented the choreography beautifully.
As someone who generally leans towards contemporary dance, it was so refreshing to see this antithesis dance form, and I enjoyed it for its differences. The current trend in dance theatre is to strip the dancers down – emotionally and physically – in regards to costume we often see neutral colours and a lot of bare skin, coupled with emotionless, serious faces. In Shades of Love the dancers were often smiling, allowing their genuine happiness to shine through to the audience – and this was uplifting. Odissi Ensemble are aiming to increase the profile of this niche Indian Dance style, and with audience members describing it as magical I think they are on they way to success.
Platform A.D. London 3/11/11
In the beautiful setting of the Actors Church in Covent Garden, I seated myself second row from the front and anticipated the performance ahead – a platform of emerging dance artists, ready to excite me with their fresh and inspiring approach to choreography, just like those of the Judson Church in the 1960’s……or so I thought.
Exquisite Corpse Dance Theatre opened the show, with an ambitious piece that for me lacked identity, which made it hard for the audience to relate to the choreography. With confusing motifs and far too many crotch shots, any cohesion that actually existed in Roma swiftly vanished. It’s unfortunate because the dancers had undeniable skill, and I think their talent was overshadowed by the recurring dodgy angles coinciding with the tiniest pants ever – trust me, everyone was rooting for an eyeful rather than being impressed with their flexibility. Choreographer Anthony Lo-Giudice should give his girls a little modesty so people can focus on their dancing. The second piece from Diciembre Dance Group was the complete antithesis. Dressed head to toe in outfits resembling a Victorian fairytale, to describe this piece as dated is an understatement. Based on a strange theme of a Lewis Carroll poem, Lewis After Wonderland attempted to explore ‘Alice as a metaphor of childhood’ and ‘an idea that haunts him.’ But there was no haunting atmosphere in this pas de deux, just the impression of a ballet exam with posh frocks. For me it was far too literal and behind the times to be involved in this contemporary dance platform.
Room performed by Beyond Repair Dance is the most original production so far. The concise, minimal movements performed in exact unison created a feeling of suspense that appeared from nowhere. Although the piece is simple and quite repetitive, I would rather describe it as unpretentious, and the intricacy of the choreography makes it interesting to watch. After a few technical glitches, A.D. Dance Company present Fawn, inspired my Mozart’s requiem. Four duets perform movement reminiscent of NDT and Lalala Human Steps, in which the female is central to the choreography, and the male just lifts her around in different positions like you would expect to see in a ballet. As in the opening piece, the dancers were incredible but the choreography didn’t live up to them. It was predictable, didn’t have any real dynamic changes and felt rather long.
The only solo of the night, Patriot finally blew away the convention that seemed to surround this platform. Choreographed by James Finnemore, it was original, modest, and the movement actually felt real and purposeful as opposed to being about virtuosity. Erik Lobelius completely invested in his performance, and this is what made it mesmerising. Now, I thought, it feels like the Judson Chruch. Stewart Kennedy Dance Company closed the evening with No Tomorrow, which was also in a league of its own. With more of a release/physical theatre style, it successfully produced a sinister feel. There felt like a lack of contact work in this piece – but maybe this is compared to the other pieces’ excess partner work? There was also a sense of the choreographer becoming the centre of attention, but overall it was still one of my favourites. Maybe that was a collective mistake of this platform – in many of the pieces the choreographer performed in their own dance. This could have allowed for misjudgement and a lack of viewing the performance with an outside eye, which all choreography needs in the rehearsal stage. The night definitely had potential – hopefully next year choreographers will embrace this and push it further.
2Faced Dance Company – In the Dust. Zoo Southside Edinburgh 25/8/11
“2Faced is set to transport contemporary dance out of the “marmite” zone of arts festivals.”
This all male dance company is not your average contemporary/break dance blend. The versatile dancers, faultless at breaking, have created their own fuse with their professional training backgrounds in ballet and contemporary - giving them an impressive edge. The choreography is quirky and unpredictable, fierce and sexy – yet danced almost elegantly, as the inhuman, lightweight way they glide across the floor is unmatched by any other dancers I’ve seen.
‘In The Dust’ is the perfect triple bill, consisting of an explosive opener, a humorous piece and an intense closing performance inspired by a serious subject; the Haiti earthquake. 2Faced Dance Company is innovative and unique, and judging by their sell-out, five star reviews from Edinburgh they are set for great, deserving success.
Two Thirds Sky – Hold. Spotlites @ Merchants Hall Edinburgh 24/8/11
“A piece infused with so much narrative, yet just as much ambiguity that it keeps you enchanted.”
I’m trying my best not to be biased with this one, as I know absolutely everyone involved in the company. Yet I think I speak for most audience members when I say that this piece really does grip you from start to finish. The mood changes abruptly, as the dancers’ relationship is constantly changing, as they overcome obstacles together and deal with various random props and costume changes.
One review states “If Florence and the Machine made dances, this is what it would look like.” I can only agree, as the dancers tell a beautiful story, but it is up to the audience to decide what is actually happening onstage – this dance piece is so open to interpretation that it keeps you engaged and leaves you feeling charmed.
Tom Dale Company – I Infinite. DanceBase Edinburgh 25/8/11
“An intriguing, mesmerising journey through digital technologies.”
This performance was distinctive right from the offset, as I was asked to remove my shoes and wear a Harry Potter-esque cloak. I Infinite is no ordinary contemporary dance performance – it is an interactive installation piece, which attempts to break the conventional laws of audience /performer boundaries. Wandering freely around a large, all-white space, the audience is invited to watch the solo female performer from all perspectives, as she explores the digital world around her. The set and digital enhancement was interesting, yet at times this description did not match the movement. However, I am yet to see a dance performance incorporating technology that has found the perfect balance, and overall it was successfully innovative and mysterious.
Resolution, The Place. 26/1/11
Love Kills, from Rhiannon Faith: Dancing Theatre was a rollercoaster of emotions communicated through a fine fusion of dance and physical theatre. It is a big challenge to conquer humour, sadness and empathy in one piece - but Rhiannon Faith O’Brien did it well, aside from the fact that it was, at times, predictable. The live band on stage added to the emotiveness of the performance, and this may have been the main appeal for some audience members. The dancers had impressive acting and character abilities, which for me held the choreography together. I think this talented choreographer has a bright future but could do with using more experienced dancers.
Projector/Conjector set an intriguing scene as the audience entered – two bodies lying down on the stage, one with a large projector attached to their head, the other wearing a large flat screen TV. However, after five minutes of the performance I can safely say my intrigue had frazzled into disappointment. The humorous moments were becoming fewer and further apart, and there’s only so much one can read a parody of Swan Lake off a moving screen. The two characters were playing opposite sexes reflected by comically drawn on rude parts, which was an entertaining bonus. The piece raised questions and pushed the boundaries of what can be classed as dance on the modern stage, yet I would have preferred more integration of technology and actual movement.
Closing the show, Big Albert’s Gang danced their way through the overdone clothes prop in THR3E. This piece had its strong points, where the sinister choreography truly gripped me, yet it lacked a professional touch. Interesting use of the clothes rails appeared when hands from invisible bodies behind the clothes began to grab a dancer and drag her through. The dancers moved well individually in their solos, however together their bodies didn’t seem to blend. The sections were too long and didn’t find a climax, but for some unknown reason I couldn’t take my eyes off the trio.