Sunday, November 02, 2014

Dance Umbrella: Talking Amongst Ourselves

The festival Dance Umbrella has been going on for over 30 years here in London, usually in October-November. Last year, a new Artistic Director, Emma Gladstone, took over and brought a new vision to its programming (a focus on 21st century choreography) and lots of new ideas and approaches to presenting dance events.

The one that caught my attention was a different kind of post-show talk. We've probably all experienced Q&As with dancers/choreographers/etc after a performance: it's always enlightening to hear from the artists involved what they had in mind, where they came from, how they worked towards the piece etc, and to get the opportunity to ask them questions.

But what if you didn't like the work? What if you didn't get it? For many of us, it would be a little daunting to admit it to the artist's face. So Dance Umbrella set up post-show discussions between audience members only, without the presence of the artist. Any questions that would arise would be answered via their blog.

I attended the one following a performance by flamenco dancer Rocio Molina at the Barbican and found it so envigorating, open and enlightening. It got me seeing things in the piece I hadn't noticed. About 40-45 people stayed to share their thoughts about what they had just seen. Some people loved Molina's experimentations; others (me!) found them a little self-indulgent sometimes. Some saw references to Lorca, Ginger Rogers, Coppelia in some of her choreography; others thought there was no need to try and find references to hang on to and said so loudly. A couple shared their amazing story of walking past Molina's rehearsal space in Seville, watching her from the street for a few minutes, and being told they should come and see her at the Barbican: flamenco novices, they were blow away by it all.

Everyone was very respectful of others' opinions, and willing to share their thoughts and impressions. And no one hogged the mic!

Not sure whether Dance Umbrella have copyrighted the idea [ ;-) ], but I'd love to see this happening more often across other events.

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Pina Bausch - 1980

(In 2012 I saw 10 works by Pina Bausch as part of the World Cities 2012 season. I just blogged moments from the shows I remembered. I am doing the same now for 1980, which Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch is performing at Sadler's Wells this week).

Grass on the stage.
A very Bauschian line of dancers walking, dancing with their arms (opening them, kinda doing the Egyptian, moving their wrists...), walking down into the audience then back the stage.
A game for children: fisherman, fisherman how deep is the waaaater? (it is 75m deep!) And how can I cross it? (by doing the gorilla!/by hoping on one foot!/by rolling on the floor!). Then the fisherman tries to catch the person who is crossing.
One of the dancers impersonating a middle-aged guy, with leather jacket, like some kind of roadie, doing dirty jokes, always saying 'Fantastic!' at the end of everything.
Serving tea to the audience. 'Would you like some sugar with it?'
A woman dancing under a sprinkler, like on a beautiful summer afternoon.
A summer evening - people eating, drinking wine under spot light, listening to a man play the organ, singing with him.
A surreal beauty pageant, each female dancer being introduced, told to 'Smile!' and do a 'winkie winkie!', with the Australian proving the keenest. She has a huge number of hobbies. Then they have to show their front legs and repeat the tongue twister 'Betty bought a bit of butter but the butter Betty bought was bitter'. The men do it too.
Competition around a microphone to sell one's leg ('look at this leg! it's tight! it's beauttiful! and I have another one too!')
Competition around a microphone to share the number of scars one has ('here, here, here and there. appendicitis. car accident')
All the performers walking slowly up stage, and each having to answer a yelling maitre de ceremonie: 'Julie! What are you scared of?' 'Suicide. Worms. Closed rooms'.
Slow line formations
A goodbye scene: one dancer bottom left corner, faces all the others, who are standing quite close to each other. One by one they go to her and say goodbye. They say it quite formally, like what you'd tell someone you don't really know 'Thank you again for coming. It is such a shame you have to go. Best regards'. Only the final dancer gives her a hug. This scene is quite moving and is repeated at the end of the piece, only the lights go down after the dancers take their position. So you know the goodbyes are coming, but they are not given to you.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Boris Charmatz - enfants @ Sadler's Wells

I was listening to an interview with Australian director Simon Stone yesterday, in which he said:

“'Oh my god I can’t believe I am actually watching this’ - This is what theatre should make you feel like.”

I thought yeah he's right, this is how I've felt whenever I've been knocked over by how good a show was.

Little did I know I'd feel this way that very evening, watching Boris Charmatz's enfant at Sadler's Wells. Here are 3 things about it that made me go  'I can't believe I just saw that happen in front of my eyes!'

1. The set.
The stage is bare, with no wing curtains. At the beginning, some kind of crane with a motor (placed front stage right) is pulling pieces of rope that have been taped around the stage and along the wall. Two people are at the end said ropes, and end up being lifted and hanging what must be 5 to 8 meters about the stage floor. They look lifeless, just hanging there. The man is held by one foot, the woman is folded at the waist. The machine brings them up, down, deposes them on the floor only to bring them back up. What is going on?

2. Lifeless children being moved about by adults all around the stage.
They are like rag dolls being played with, made to dance, to sit, to chat. The children are what, aged 5 to 8? For half an hour they stay limp, eyes closed, while the adults move them about, dance around them and go about some crazy business. The sight of those children was funny at first, but turned disturbing for me. A few weeks ago I was sadly in A&E, and witnessed the death of a 3-month-old in the bay opposite mine. I only saw him being carried in by the ambulance people, then the curtain was drawn and I could just hear them trying to save him. Minutes later, a wail from the distraught parents. Their son was dead. Seeing the show reminded me of them, and how maybe in the madness of their grief they may have tried to will their baby back to life. I would have, I think...

3. After the children start singing, they start running around. There are incredible moments where one or two try to run off stage but get caught up by an adult. To them, it may be a game but there was a certain shock/violence that made me gasp. Then it's the turn of the adults to go lifeless while the kids move them around (5 kids needed to move one man, at one point). A bagpipe player (!!!!) then appears and guides all the children and adults around the stage in some kind of crazy celebration/parade. You can tell it's very improvised. There are mad marching steps, screams, rolls on the floor. You can see some kids looking around a little confused, but they soon remember some steps they know they can fall back on (one is scrubbing your eyes, as though you are waking up, or miming crying). I'm watching and I'm like 'What the fuck!?'. It is completely mad, I don't know where it's going but I am in awe of the performers and the vision of the choreographer. Here is the bagpiper being lifted by the crane.

Leaving the theatre, I was completely buzzing. It's hard to explain why, apart from complete surprise at seeing something so different, and so beautiful for it.

If I see another show this year that has the same impact on me, I'll consider myself very lucky.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Guess what those guys are doing?

Look at their faces. Bertil Nilsson has filmed them close-up. They are smiling a little. Oh no are they in pain? Are they trying not laugh? Yes yes they are trying to suppress laughter. Or maybe not, there is a hint of discomfort.

Watch this video and find out what's causing those facial reactions.

Visit Bertil Nilsson's website for more beautiful dance videos and his photographic work.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

My 13 songs of 2013

It's end of the year lists season! I don't think I've even been to ten dance/ballet events this year - somehow not much was appealing - so I won't make one of these. Next year is looking a lot more promising already.

Instead here are songs from 2013 that caught my attention, that I listened to on repeat for several afternoons at work, that I sang daily on my bike ride home, or that I had to play to get the party going. Warning: there is quite a range. I never really paid attention to dance music before. This year, things changed and my ears opened up. Those tracks will always mean 2013 to me.

To all the friends who shared these with me, thank you.

Dark Dark Dark - The Great Mistake
The album it is from (Who Needs Who) was actually released in October 2012 but I only heard a track in January 2013, it was playing on the radio at a friend's. Thankfully she had a digital one so I could check out what it was. I love the moody start, the harmonies and of course the lyrics. Words always mean a lot to me: 'the great mistake was mine'.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

On a sad anniversary

Dear Brigitte. On this sad anniversary (five years already, it really hits me), I want to free myself of some memories that return to haunt me way too often. If I remembered them once a year (like today, for example, which would make sense) it would be fine, but they return more often and I do not understand why. So here they are.

The joy of seeing that my partner calls me at work, transformed into immense shock.
Crying over my desk, crying bent in half on my chair, the pain is so intense I cannot stop myself.
Quickly, quickly running to get home - I manage to stop myself from crying on the tube (it must be the weight of strangers' gazes, you see I am becoming so British dis donc.)
My mother in tears hugging her granddaughter.
My brother who does not want to come and see you behind that curtain, and my uncle who puts his arm over his shoulder and says 'come, come, you have to say good bye'.
Your sister, heartbroken, crying, turning her face away from you, holding this big wardrobe, as though she is holding for dear life (dear life... hum)
My cousins singing along softly to Renaud's Mistral Gagnant ('il faut aimer la vie, l'aimer meme si le temps est assassin et emporte avec lui le rire des enfants, et les mistrals gagnants')
And the tears, the cries, the howling, the weeping.
And the kids playing Playstation in the living room because life continues right? Yes it continues.

Today I will feel a bit lighter, more joyful. You understand it I hope? We miss you.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Trisha Brown Dance Company @ Dance Umbrella - 11 Oct - Thought review

The company of nine dancers performed three 'proscenium works'.

Astral Convertible
Haaa I just love Trisha Brown's movement. It's so flowy.
When was this made? With the light towers installation, the soundscape music, the 'nothing to hide' blue unitards, the serious faces, the general aimlessness of it, it looks exactly like the image most people have of contemporary dance. Is this  hallmark of the sixities? Let me check my programme... oh wow it's from 1989!
It's funny how on Wednesday I saw that new Wayne McGregor work at Sadler's Wells, and I was so bored, yet tonight I am not. I mean the two works have interesting lighting and movement, no particular direction. But I guess Trisha Brown knows when to end it? [at 32 minutes rather than 1 hour and 15].
Some of those dancers are so cute.

Friday, October 04, 2013

LA Dance Project @ Sadler's Wells - 4 Oct - Thought review

'Thought reviews' are basically the thoughts that popped into my head while watching a particular dance work/evening. My partner just called the idea 'Distracted Review' - appropriate I think!
This time, the LA Dance Project's triple bill at Sadler's Wells.

First piece, by Justin Peck
Oh they are wearing trainers and normal clothes. I think this guy's t-shirt is from Topman. Do they have Topman in LA?
I'm enjoying this. It's very Jerome Robbins. I need to watch that Opus Jazz film again. This piece could work as a film actually. An Opus Jazz for LA?
The dancer on the left is CUTE.
I like the music. I need to find out what it is. [it's by Bryce Dessner]

Sunday, September 22, 2013

On a Saturday night

Decide to go out because you want to see your friends. Think that you've had a great day so far and maybe you are pushing your luck to try and extend this feeling into the night: staying home, eating rhubarb fool while watching some edgy crime drama would comfortably do it anyway. Anxiously wonder if you might miss out on something whatever decision you make. Go out. Your friends leave early in the end, not in the mood for the crowd and the commercial music served by the DJ. Decide to feel your fear of being in a club alone and stay anyway. Dance alone. Dance with people. Dance some more. Listen to a drunk female dental nurse compliment you about your smile and advise you to always floss. Tell her you learnt that lesson the hard way, thank you. Make a note in your mind of a great remix of some song you don't know, that you will easily find on the internet the morning after (yikes, you won't be able to proudly tell people you don't know any Taylor Swift songs anymore!). Cycle back home, feeling teary. Maybe you are just tired. You experienced some good times, yet they seem diminished in your memory because you did not have anyone to share them with. Talk to the love of your life about it all. Sleep peacefully.

Friday, September 13, 2013

On dancing flamenco

Some words about a very personal experience that happened at my flamenco class yesterday.

'Chest open! Chin up! Stand taller, look higher than you normally would' shouted our flamenco teacher. 'You are dancing tarantos! When you dance tarantos the audience should cry!'. We laughed. 'Try and make me cry! I want to see lots of feeling!'. We laughed again: who will cry watching us dance under that awful sports hall light, covered in sweat? OK, maybe we can try this. How can I put lots of feelings into it, give it more intensity? Then I think about my dead. I imagine them in the room, sitting on the floor in front of the mirror, watching me dance. My grandmother, my aunts, my friends. They give me 'feeling', they make me dance more intensely, those people who will never see me dance. How can I impress them? I concentrate more on my elbow (drop it down, drop it down), on my weight when I lean forward (not too much), on my balance. It's kind of working but of course they are not there. Wherever they are, can they hear me stamp? I stamp harder, louder than I did before, in the hope that the sound will reach them. Pa-ra-tat-tat! Hello it's me I am dancing for you! Can you hear me out there? I get home and I think about this moment again, and how morbid it is: really, I should think about my friends that are alive and present, and how I would dance tarantos for them. I talk to my partner about important things, I sign some papers about buying a flat. Moving forward. Chest: open. Chin: up.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Re:Rosas - You Danst Rosas

I've mentioned it before, but I'd love for amateur contemporary dance classes to include the chance to learn well-known pieces of choreography, in the same way that a ballet class might teach you some pas de trois by Petipa or some riff on Bejart. Who wouldn't love to learn a bit of Pina Bausch for example?

Well Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker has kind of answered my call. To celebrate the 30 years of her work Rosas danst Rosas, she is teaching the moves of the piece's chair section online, and inviting us to film ourselves performing it and send her the results. 

From the first time I saw this work, I've always wanted to know the moves of this iconic section, and get hold of the music too. Well it's all on the Re:Rosas website, so pull up a chair and get learning! There are some great film submissions already to get you inspired.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

In The Middle Somewhat Elevated

How much I'd give to see this live again! Really looking forward to seeing another Forsythe piece performed by Boston Ballet next week though!

In The Middle,Somewhat Elevated, chorégraphie William Forsythe from Stage de Danse/Les Hivernales on Vimeo.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Note to self: how to dance bulerias

I went on a 3-day flamenco course this weekend, which was fantastic. Bulerias are a fun, short flamenco dance that people tend to perform at a juerga (party). If you go to see flamenco shows in big theatres (eg Sadler's Wells), the performers (dancers, guitarists, singers) will often dance bulerias at the end of the show, at the curtain call: they form a semi-circle and all get to have a go. It's called 'bulerias fin de fiesta' then.

It's really fun but it's also very frightening as the dance is improvised on the spot. The dancer needs to call the singer when he is ready to start the dance, needs to respect the singer during his song and needs to show him when it's time to be quiet as he's about to show off his steps. So there's lots to be aware of, while you also need to look relaxed and have super attitude (see the video below for some cheeky steps, looks and more!). No need to say that dancing bulerias has always been scary for me: I had the feeling that I knew some steps but had no idea how to put them together and where they should go. That course has really increased my knowledge of the form, and now I know where things go - which feels amazing!

- walk into the semi-circle, simply right-left-right-left, be relaxed. You can walk for as long as you want, as the singer is unlikely to start his song until you give him a cue that he can start. A call to the singer is quite simple: clap your hands in front of you, hit your chest, direct your arms towards the singer and walk.
- while the cantaor sings, as a dancer you should do very little - by that I mean just do some marking steps (little walking steps to the right and left, nice arm movements, though you can play around). See 00:23-00:41 below:

- when the cantaor has finished his song, or is nearing the end of the song, you do a llamada, which is another type of call with a very distinct rhythm. This is the basic one, and you can play around once you feel comfortable.
- after the llamada, the cantaor will not start a new song. It's your time to do a bit of footwork and show off. The end of your footwork should include another call (like the one at the start) so the singer knows you're done and he can start singing again with another verse (then you go back to point two above). If you don't feel like doing footwork - or, like me, just want to be out of the spotlight asap! - you can simply end your llamada with a few steps that show the singer that you are about to leave the circle (usually the simplest is to to go into one of the corner of the circle, and show that you're about to walk through it in a diagonal: see 00:41 above for the llamada, followed by the walk to the corner showing that the dancer is about to leave) He will then sing a 'coletilla', a song that goes with those moves

So this is the basic. It gets more, way more complicated! For example, you can decide to wait for the singer to start his song and then jump in in the middle - as the man in the video above does. You can add lots of footwork. You can do a 'remate' to change your marking steps (as the dancer does at 00:22 above). You can do the llamada at another time. etc etc It's like improv - you have all those building blocks and you can play with them within reason.

Your bulerias can last only a minute or so if you want it to - it still feels like a long time when you can fuck up though. For now, I'm going to just keep it super simple until I get more confident and realise that embarrassment does not kill. After all a three-year old is doing it in the video above and she survived.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Alvin Ailey's Revelations

Alvin Ailey's Revelations, created in 1960, is the most seen modern dance work - over 23 million people have seen it live. Here is a guide to one of contemporary dance's classics.

Choreography: Alvin Ailey
Performed by18 dancers (9 male, 9 female)
Duration: 38 minutes
Original décor and costumes: Lawrence Maldonado
Revival décor and costumes: Ves Harper
Lighting: Nicola Cernovitch 
First performance: 31 January 1960 at Kaufman Concert Hall, YM-YWHM, New York
Original dancers (the first version of Revelations featured fewer dancers than today's): Alvin Ailey, Joan Derby, Merle Derby, Jay Fletcher, Gene Hobgood, Natheniel Horne, Herman Howell, Minnie Marshall, Nancy Redi and Corene Richardson.

 © Andrew Eccles

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Pelican Books - Ballet (1945) - vintage illustrations

The other weekend I went to an antiques fair and found a copy of the 1945 edition of Pelican Books' guide to Ballet, first published in 1938 to what seems to be pretty good success (there were three reprints in 1938, one in 1940 and one in 1943, before a new edition came out in January 1945).

I mainly bought it for the beautiful illustration by Kay Ambrose, so I thought I'd do a 'Brain Pickings'-style post and share some of these. I can't decide whether my favourite is Checkmate or Les Patineurs - love the sense of the dancers being front of stage, almost blinded by the lights.

Les Sylphides (Kay Ambrose)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

English National Ballet brand statement

English National Ballet, one of the major British ballet companies, went through a major rebrand exercise this week, with a new logo, striking visuals and a collaboration with designer Vivienne Westwood. See Design Week for more.

It's quite exciting. I am not super taken by the visuals and some of the ideas behind them. For example the thought of partnering up with designers in other fields is not that original. Diaghilev did it after all. But I guess it's good for them to really run with it. The images are beautiful but sadly they don't say 'ballet' to me, they look like a normal fashion shoot, and I wonder what message they will convey to people who go to the Nutcracker or Swan Lake only once in a while - surely a core audience for this touring company.

Of course it's great to challenge them and show that ballet's unique selling point is not pointe shoes, tutus and fairytales, but athleticism, grace and emotions.

Their copy conveys that strongly to me: 'looks like a doll, dances like a demon' goes one version. And I love their new brand statement - it's got oomph and guts and I look forward to where this new drive will take the company:

'We danced before language and this is our promise. Through our art we will tell your story. We will dance the times you fell in love. We will dance your dreams and your fears. We will dance your death. Our suspended moments, grand glories, kaleidoscopic whirlings, rats, swans, firebirds, heroes, heroines and tracing of psyche are your mirror. We are not dolls. We are artists, young and hungry. At war with gravity to capture poetry from air. We do not exist to embalm traditions. We exist to cherish them and then create more. We leap and grasp for the new. We are for everyone. Watch ballet and you are not rich or poor. Cultured or barbarian. Brain or brawn. You are human. Full of lust and adventure. We are yours and we are you.'

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Forsythe ballet in London

We just don't get the chance to see many ballets created by William Forsythe in London. For some reason, he is not on the main companies' roster. So it's great to see Boston Ballet coming to town for the first time in 30 years with one of his pieces, The Second Detail. After really enjoying Artifact by Royal Ballet of Flanders last year, you bet I'll be there! Plus it's on a programme with Christopher Wheeldon's Polyphonia, which I also like (and some Jiri Kylian, oh well)

Here's a clip of the piece performed by Semperoper Ballet

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Rosas - En atendant

I went to Sadler's Wells tonight to see Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's En atendant, a piece she originally created to be performed at sunset/dusk, with the light slowly fading.

The piece was full of beautiful moments, but I spent most of the time wondering 'Why do you have to make it so difficult for yourself, ATDK? Why?'. Obviously she is an artist with a vision, a craft, a style, but I really wish she put herself in the audience's shoes sometimes, and she just tried to meet us halfway.

Why oh why couldn't they afford costumes, or simple things that would make us feel like the piece had more production values and wasn't just plain dry choreography? It is more than that of course, but I must say my heart sank a little bit when the singer came out in her jeans and purple top, and when the first dancer walked in with her little black dress and blue adidas trainers.

I started by having to consciously ignore the bland lighting and the dancers' boring black clothes - the female dancers would actually tuck their dresses into their pants (!). For sure it helped me focus on the movement and the music, but it would have been so nice to just go 'oh what pretty stuff they are wearing' and move on from there.

I loved the music used in the piece (early, medieval, ars sutilor from the 14th century, performed live by a singer and two musicians), but unfortunately there were also long moments of choreography in silence. These often looked to me like choreographic games we the audience didn't know the rules of, so they were a bit baffling.

I liked the choreography though: lots of balances and shifts of weight between dancers (there was this repeated movement of the right foot nesting itself on the back of the bending left knee and the body jolting backwards), some beautiful group work with knots of necks, arms and torsos being tied and untied, walks across the stage to the rhythm of the viola, the voice or the flute and more.

So by the end, I am thinking 'this is beautiful but how flippin' alienating'.

And then, two beautiful moments: a young, blonde, male dancer lies on the floor, puts one arm behind his head and looks towards the audience. Then he stands to take off his shorts. He is naked underneath, and he takes the same pose, and just breathes there for a minute or two. It's immensely erotic (and probably still fairly alienating to be fair).

As the lights dim and start to turn off, another male dancer ends the piece with an astounding solo. He too is naked, and his white body can be seen, glimpsed and just made in the darkness that enfolds him, his breathing the sole soundtrack. It's simple, but that image proved to me that ATDK can do beautiful and accessible when she wants to! And there will be an audience for that, and they won't leave before the end.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Pina Bausch season wrap-up

It's taken me a long time to write that post. The World Cities 2012 season of ten Pina Bausch works ended back in July, but hey, there's always time to talk about Pina Bausch right?

So it was, let's face it, an incredible privilege to see so many works by one choreographer in such a short period of time. I had only seen four works by Pina Bausch live before then, and my total has suddenly more than tripled in five weeks.

It was not all positive though. I can't deny that Pina fatigue kicked in a little bit in the middle. Formulas became apparent, some images seemed a little bit cliched, and it was hard to work out which piece the solo you remembered was from, as they were all so similar. Thankfully Palermo Palermo (penultimate piece in the series) kickstarted the love back.

But, here is what I have learnt:

- Try and sit on the front row, as audiences at the front of the auditorium often have to get involved in the show (a man got his glasses cleaned, another was offered a banana, a dancer counted the fingers on the hands of all the front row, bread tartines were served etc...)
- Long evening dresses are to Pina Bausch what unitards are for Merce Cunningham. Maybe not as practical, but for the purpose of her dances, they work.
- Pina Bausch dancers can, well, dance - something lost when you only see the more theatrical productions
- When things start to get repeated, and it feels like a coda of the beginning choreography, you know it's nearly the end of piece
- She can make you laugh and cry within two minutes
- British audiences laugh at odd moments, sometimes the most sad and tragic ones

Another thought: can someone please teach contemporary dance classes where we learn famous routines? I would love to learn some Pina Bausch steps, you know, the same way some hip hop classes teach you the moves to a particular video or some classic Michael Jackson steps. I would particularly like to learn the clapping routine from Der Fensterputzer and one of the girl's Bamboo Blues's solo.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Martha Graham dance quote / picture

I have loved and pondered this Martha Graham quote for a while. It inspired me to take a few pictures and represent it visually in some way, while relating dance back to the body.

Image: @studioincovent