Category Archives: dance

Bourne Again

THE RED SHOES

Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 11th February, 2020

 

Celebrated choreographer Matthew Bourne adapts the legendary Powell-Pressburger film of 1948 for his own purposes, crafting the narrative into a spectacular evening of dance and emotion.

This is the story of Victoria Page, aspiring dancer, who gets her big break when the prima ballerina breaks her foot – it’s all a bit 42nd Street in this respect, especially with all the on-stage/off-stage drama.  Victoria becomes an overnight sensation but finds her affections torn between Julian the composer and Boris, the impresario.  It is this love triangle that forms the focus of the tale, with the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale taking a back seat.

I’m no dance expert but I recognise quality when I see it (and when someone hits the floor with a full shablam!).  What I can tell you this is a production of unadulterated beauty, brimming with romanticism and passion.  The dancing is flawless and enchanting; as we have come to expect from Matthew Bourne, the storytelling is clear and engaging, with well-defined characters/types and touches of humour.  The plot unfolds in episodic scenes, taking in a range of exotic locations: Paris, Monte Carlo, and, um, Covent Garden, with the set dominated by a false proscenium arch with majestic curtains, dividing the off-stage and the on-, swirling and twirling as part of the choreography, as part of the troupe!

At this performance, Victoria is played by Ashley Shaw, technically tight and powerfully expressive.  She is supported by Reece Causton’s suave but haughty Boris and Dominic North’s energised and passionate Julian.  The rest of the company is equally impressive but in a show in which no one speaks, it is difficult to identify characters; I can’t tell my Nadias from my Svetlanas.  Take it as read that everyone is at the top of their game.  Special mention goes to the two blokes who perform a sand dance in the style of music hall act Wilson and Keppel (what, no Betty?).

One of the biggest stars of the night is the score by film composer Bernard Herrmann (who later went on to score films like Psycho).  Herrmann’s music is stirring, sweeping and rich, with psychological undercurrents and disturbances.  It’s highly emotive and Bourne makes the most of it to support the action.

Totally accessible, Bourne’s blend of contemporary dance, classical ballet and period choreography, delivers an evening of enchantment that is performed with breath-taking skill by a talented company.  This is world-class stuff, powerful, entertaining and admirable.  By the time I finish clapping, my hands are as red as the shoes.

THE RED SHOES

Put on your red shoes and dance the blues. Ashley Shaw as Victoria Page (Photo: Johan Persson)


Art Full

FAGIN’S TWIST

Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Wednesday 13th March, 2019

 

Avant Garde Dance Company’s take on the Dickens classic offers a few surprises among an impressive display of contemporary dance, informed by an urban aesthetic.  It certainly is a sight to see: the precision, the skill, the energy, but I have a problem with the first act.  Apart from an introduction from the Artful Dodger (Aaron Nuttall) there is little in the way of exposition.  The scenes that link the dance sequences are therefore not as clear as they could be, and so while I appreciate the mechanised, repetitive dehumanised routines in the workhouse, I’m not entirely sure who the characters are who plot their escape.

At the top of the second act, Dodger gives us a recap and mentions the others by name at last.  It seems a clumsy way to do things, rather than simply amending the dialogue in the earlier scenes, but at least it leads to better storytelling.  There is some clever rhyming and word play in Maxwell Golding’s writing thought, and some cheeky references to song titles from the Lionel Bart musical.

Arran Green’s Fagin is tall and slender, towering over the action in his big coat and top hat.  Green moves with elegance and humour – spoken scenes are also accompanied by choreographed moves and gestures – and there is a lovely, sinuous quality here.

There is a striking duo (or pas de deux, I suppose) between Bill (Stefano A Addae) and Nancy (Ellis Saul) and a surprising twist (as in plot rather than Chubby Checker) from Sia Gbamoi as Oliver.

Yann Seabra’s costumes reference the story’s Victorian origins, while the score (by various) is relentlessly of the now.  Seabra’s set, before it becomes other things, starts off as a big fence.  Which is what Fagin is, if you think about it!  Jackie Shemish’s lighting is as taut and evocative as the performances; it’s as though the lighting is another dancer!

Tony Adigun’s choreography is expressive, mixing fluidity of forms with sharper, jerkier, inorganic moves but I think as much attention needs to be given to characterisation in the spoken scenes as is devoted to the dance sequences.  Rather than being a moving story, I find myself marvelling at the performance of this amazing ensemble rather than engaging with what the characters experience.

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The cast of Fagin’s Twist

 


Whitewashing Won’t Wash

NOT TODAY’S YESTERDAY

Patrick Centre, Birmingham Hippodrome, Tuesday 23rd October, 2018

 

As usual when I’m reviewing a dance show, I’m somewhat out of my depth; I lack the technical knowledge to appreciate fully an edition of Strictly, let alone a contemporary piece.  But I decide, that’s not important.  The show should work on me without me being able to tell a pirouette from an arabesque.

This is a one-woman piece, combining traditional Eastern moves with modern, Western ones – I can at least tell the difference here – creating a fusion of the two.  It begins with our soloist (Seeta Patel) on a box in front of a reflective surface, moving with jerky, quirky grace; this is a prelude to the story.  A pre-recorded narrator speaks – sometimes the performer lip-syncs, sometimes she supports/illustrates the spoken words with gestures, abstract and concrete.  It’s the story of a land of faraway folk and has the air of a folk tale, and at first, it’s a bit twee.  Were it not for the ominous music, I’d tire of it quickly.  Having painted a picture of this idyllic, if other-worldly, place, the performer introduces a different land, pushing angular forms around to suggest a landscape? A ship? Accompanied by the music of Strauss.  This is the West, sending out explorers to the land of the faraway folk.  At first, gifts are exchanged but it soon turns sour.  As we know from history.

Then comes the show’s most potent image.  The performer pours a curtain of whitewash.  It runs and thickens in front of a suffering figure, obliterating the atrocities of the past. There are some disturbing contortions conveying the torment of the oppressed.  The more she tries to wipe away the whitewash, the more obscured she becomes from sight, until she is reduced to a shadowy figure, distorted, dehumanised, animalistic even.

Donning an elaborate frock made of colourless plastic, she dances to an operatic song that satirises the imperialistic, patriotic rhetoric of the oppressor.  These people should be grateful!  Like the dress, we can see right through it.  It’s comical but it’s also nasty and spot-on and bang up-to-date.    Compare with any of the hateful rantings of the ignoramus Trump.  Fake history is just as bad as fake news.

Seeta Patel is a charismatic presence, expressive and enigmatic in equal measure.  Director-choreographer Lina Limosani keeps the action clearly focussed, augmenting it with a sound design that incorporates sound effects to suggest location, and sound bytes to get the point across.

A provocative, politically pertinent and engaging piece.  I got a lot out of it after all.

not today

Me and my shadow: the human face behind the whitewash: Seeta Patel


Louder Than Words

#JESUIS

Patrick Centre, Birmingham Hippodrome, Thursday 15th February, 2018

 

Everything has a hashtag these days, doesn’t it?  We all remember the #JeSuisCharlie one used as a show of solidarity after the shootings at the Charlie Hebdo magazine office in Paris.  But other atrocities don’t receive the coverage on social, or any other media.  The idea behind this new dance production is that other atrocities are being perpetrated and the people caught up in them also exist, they can also proclaim “Je suis” (I am.  I exist)

Director-choreographer Aakash Odedra has put together a troupe of dancers whose initial brief was to portray what life is like in present-day Turkey, but the show developed into something less specific yet more universal.  Rather than particulars, we get types.  A man in a long, military coat, moves jerkily, making weird angles.  He is the oppressor, it transpires, preying on the rest of the ensemble, often singling one member out, male or female, and putting his hand over their mouth and dragging them away, like a lion picking off individuals from the herd.  To a soundtrack of sound effects: sirens, feedback, electric humming, the action plays out, becoming more frenetic, more distorted when loud music is added to the mix.

The ensemble, faced with a microphone, fall over each other for their chance to speak out – until the Man comes. Between blackouts, we glimpse striking tableaux, some of them Caravaggio would be proud of.  Imprisoned in narrow strips of light, they shake wildly.  They are wrapped in lengths of cling film, robbing them of individuality, dehumanising them.  To sound effects of the sea, they crawl, washed up on the beach, dead – we have all seen images of refugees who have met this fate, especially their children.

The show is a kaleidoscope of imagery and sound.  Some of it is abstract and you get a general feel for what’s going on.  Much of it is more directly recognisable.  All of it is powerful.

I don’t think ‘exhilarating’ is the word I want here, but I am certainly invigorated in a way by the energy of the performers.  Involving disturbing material translated into movement, this piece is not only a demonstration of what Dance can do but also a reminder of what is going on, what people are doing to each other in the world today.  Gripping, inventive and pertinent, #JeSuis engages us intellectually and emotionally.  Admirable.

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