Tanztheater Wuppertal / Pina Bausch: …como el musguito en la piedra, ay si si si…

Written for Total Theatre

Tanztheater Wuppertal, ...como el musguito en la piedra | Photo: Aydin Herwegh

As part of the World Cities 2012 series Tanztheater Wuppertal’s response to Chile is infused with a lightness of spirit. Even the name, ‘…como el musguito en la piedra, ay si, si, si…’, seems to mischievously wink at you. Take a look at a picture of ‘el muguito’ and you’ll see what I mean. Whilst the English translation ‘like moss on a stone’ may bring up rather soporific images of a carpet of green, this Chilean moss shoots off from the rock with the audacity of a punk’s Mohican; an optimistic flurry of life perched on the contours of a wasteland.

It’s a fitting image. The final World Cities piece that Pina Bausch completed before her death, this 2 hour 40 minute piece is a gloriously alive monument to the choreographer.

In this unbridled celebration of movement Bausch provides us with a vivid carousel of physical mini narratives. Whilst in keeping with her usual style of mixing dance, speech and autobiographical storytelling, what gives this piece its exuberance is the sheer level of dancing Bausch unleashes onto the stage.

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Review: Men In Motion (where I forget to breathe).

Written for Exeunt

Former Principal Royal Ballet dancer Ivan Putrov has pulled together a constellation of stars for his first foray into producing: Men In Motion. Following in the footsteps of Nijinsky and Diaghilev, Putrov is seeking to make the audience see beyond the supremacy of the ballerina. In ballet men have had to play second fiddle for too long it seems: there’s more to life than being a Prince and Putrov’s going to prove it.

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Theatre trailers mark 2: The marketing men get their say.

The last blog I wrote on theatre trailers made me rather unpopular. So like a fool I decided to go back for more and my bravery paid off – I found out some very insightful things…Videos encourage online word of mouth and therefore group ticket buying. Perhaps most importantly they can build trust between an audience and a brand. All in all, maybe a picture really is worth more than a thousand words…

Here’s the full thing on The Guardian’s Culture Professional Network, do let me know what you think:



Review: Rian

Written for Exeunt

It’s always thrilling to see the contemporary and the traditional wedded together so successfully. With Rian, Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre’s Artistic Director Michael Keegan-Dolan has shown himself to be a vibrant and original choreographer. The piece is a collaboration with folk rock musician Liam Ó Maonlaí, in which eight dancers and five musicians fuse movement and music together in a modern piece that is thick with historical overtones. Playful, mischievous and poetic, Rian is both reverential and revelatory and but perhaps the strongest element in this vital work is the inherent sense of joy which filters through to the audience.

Using Ó Maonlaí’s titular 2005 solo album as its musical backbone, this is Keegan-Dolan’s jubilant repost to a world in the throws of a bleak economic climate. As such whilst Rian – which means ‘mark’ or ‘trace’ in Irish – is full of echoes of the past, it also feels terribly relevant; the voices of history speaking to the people of the present. This is an audience longing to be reminded of something good and true, and the readiness with which they engage with the piece, whooping throughout and leaping up at the end in rapturous applause, reveals this particular need. The Irish are, ostensibly, always up for a bit of the ‘craic’ but this wilful sense of communal festivity seems necessary now more than ever.

With its sharp, clean set and quirky, pounding choreography, the piece is never sentimental, and avoids the easy emotional currency that can come with nostalgia. Keegan-Dolan’s movements respond fully to the different textures that flow through the music. The creaking and cracking of stomping leather brogues whips up the crowd into an atmosphere reminiscent of a ceilidh, as leaps are landed and thighs are slapped, the dancers sporting cocky grins. Spirits are evoked as a girl’s voice hauntingly fills the theatre and four women respond with the simplest of repeated movements, it is hypnotic watching their bare feet sweep the floor and their arms rise and fall with balletic, silent grace.

The resulting piece feels timeless. By creating a score firmly rooted in Irish folk but also infused with elements of world music Ó Maonlaí is acknowledging Ireland’s multicultural present. In doing so the richness of these other cultures bleeds into an already potent tradition to create something distinctly Irish but also universal. He is a compelling musician and from the moment he places his harp centre stage and lights a lone candle on his piano, it feels as though he is offering something up to his ancestors. But for all the holiness inherent in this commanding music, performed with a hypnotic stillness by his band of musicians, Ó Maonlaí  is not afraid to laugh at himself, throwing the kind of shapes that would make any dad at a disco proud.

Rian is a barn-stormer of a production, in which the dancers sometimes sing and the singers sometimes dance. It is touching to see artists take on something which is so out of their comfort zone, so comfortably. This is a company that clearly know and trust each other and in the midst of their mastery, by letting go of themselves in such a way, they invite us to do the same.

Rian will be at Sadler’s Wells, London, from 24th-25th October 2011. For tickets and information visit the Sadler’s Wells website.

AfterLight, Sadler’s Wells

Russell Maliphant’s AfterLight is inspired by the swirling postures of Vaslav Nijinsky. Capturing the dancer’s fawning quality, the piece is an undulating hour of 21st century modernity. Diaphanous projections and striking lighting create an environment that not only frames these solos and duets, but at times consumes them. Maliphant’s piece is a muted expression of Nijinsky’s work, romantic and fluid but at points so drowsy it’s almost horizontal; where are Nijinsky’s famous leaps? Where is his renowned athleticism? If AfterLight is an extension of the powerful photographs that immortalised Nijinsky, it does not reach far enough.

In its full-length form AfterLight is an extension of a short solo piece originally commissioned by Sadler’s Wells for their 2009 Spirit of Diaghilev season; if Nijinsky’s alchemy is to be found anywhere it is in this transporting original solo. Performed here with immense feeling by Daniel Proietto the piece begins with a silent figure revolving and twisting on a spot to strains of Erik Satie’s silvery Gnossiennes 1-4.

Maliphant’s opening choreography is stunning in its simplicity and deceptively powerful, reminiscent of a jewellery-box ballerina. Michael Hull’s shifting pool of light moves around Proietto, caressing him, tempting and teasing him into a duet that feels challenging and raw as well as soft and nubile.

There is a tension present in this first piece that later dissipates; without this tension the magic of Nijinsky’s dancing never feels fully acknowledged.  In the next duet (the opening piece has a dual quality so it feels like a natural progression) two nymphs swoon on the floor; their longing is palpable and fills the stage. Olga Cobos and Silvina Cortes’ symmetry is beautiful, each perfectly synchronised movement underscored with the idiosyncrasies of the individual. But after a while their swooping arms begin to pale and when Proietto comes in, their resultant preening and flirting is underwhelming.

Until the ecstatic finale, the remaining duets, solos and trios maintain this slightly pedestrian pace. But a jolt of energy is injected into the whole evening through Hull’s innovative lighting. Maliphant and Hull’s collaboration is genuinely exciting and it’s fascinating to behold such a symbiotic two-way relationship on stage. The projections provide the strength that the choreography occasionally lacks and lends the entire mise-en-scène a greater sense of depth via a dream-like play of perspectives.

Andy Cowton’s original score pulls threads from each of Satie’s delicate notes, spiralling out into a million tiny variations of ambient sound. Cowton also pays homage to the oriental mysticism surrounding Nijinsky and Les Ballets Russes in a score that playfully skips from external references to internal impressionism with great ease and skill.

Maliphant’s connection with his collaborators is clear in every aspect of this holistic performance. The strength of AfterLight comes in its leaps forward into the potential of movement, lighting and sound to form a synergy of expression. But apart from the complex and transcendent opening it lacks Nijinsky’s fire.

Review: Electric Hotel

By God Electric Hotel is a cool show. As the audience settles into their seats, the atmosphere is more akin to a festival main stage than a theatre auditorium. It helps that we’re outdoors in the shadow of a rusty gas tower skeleton, the clouds insolently floating by us in a twilight sky and a vacancy light flickering anxiously ­– the Electric Hotel is open for business. It’s all distinctly 1950s American epic but forget the shiny innocence of the ‘70s nostalgia for those years:this is no Happy Days; more a winking acknowledgment to the eerie and disturbing world of David Lynch.

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