Sunday, 5 October 2014

REVIEW: Igor and Moreno - Idiot Syncrasy

We started with wanting to change the world with a performance. We felt like idiots. Then we danced a lot. We jumped. We called on the folk traditions of Sardinia and the Basque Country. We sang. We jumped some more. We committed. Now we promise to stick together. We promise to persevere. We promise to do our best. - See more at:
We started with wanting to change the world with a performance. We felt like idiots. Then we danced a lot. We jumped. We called on the folk traditions of Sardinia and the Basque Country. We sang. We jumped some more. We committed. Now we promise to stick together. We promise to persevere. We promise to do our best. - See more at:
At first glance Idiot Syncrasy is a quirky, repetitive work that amuses and delights. However underneath its charming exterior, it is clear that the emotional intensity and overwhelming repetitive nature of the work lies in Igor and Moreno's subtle details. But what is most interesting is the artists' ability to make their audience feel exactly as they want.

The staging is minimal: white floor, three huge white screens staggered at the back, bright white lighting, no wings and no props. Thus the audience's attention is already directed to the two men performing in shorts and a plain t-shirt (which Igor continually changes, much to the audience's amusement). Other than the quirky opening of the work and their performance of Sardinian and Basque folk songs, the men simply bounce, for the majority of the work. There are few moments of pause or rest. From the outset, the repetitive bouncing creates a sense of tiredness in the audience.

The quirky details within the work set it apart from current and more conventional contemporary dance performance. Igor's careful concentration of undressing himself and delicately folding and laying his clothes versus Moreno's complete lack of care and disinterest in the act, is both intricately detailed and ingeniously funny. In addition, Igor's sudden reappearance from behind one of the white screens with two plastic shot glasses and a bottle of Scotch Whisky, is ludicrously hilarious. After pouring and drinking the shots, Moreno then disappears again and returns with two enormous stacks of plastic shot glasses and two large bottles of Scotch, which they then begin to pass around the audience. These charming additions to the work highlight the duo's imagination and attention to detail.

After the Scotch has been passed around the audience, the music abruptly becomes louder and more overwhelming. The auditorium is suddenly filled with the heavy vibration of the pulsating sound. The increased speed of the duo's repetitive bouncing, coupled with the alcohol, the increase in music volume and the gradual brightening of the white lighting, has a dizzying and drunk effect on the audience. The change in tone successfully provokes overwhelming feelings of tiredness and dizziness. The men continue to bounce, before slipping into a repetitive dance phrase that shifts them through the space with ease. Despite the exhausting nature of the work, they seem to glide and twist past each other effortlessly. After the work has reached it's climatic peak, the music slows and the men embrace in an intimate moment of contact. They spin slowly, hugging one another, clutching onto one another. There is a definite feeling of unity, of needing one another, as our journey with them gradually comes to an end.

Igor and Moreno perform a rich exploration of each section of the work, they exhaust every idea without compromise. No section is left inadequately investigated and no part of the work feels superficial. It could be this perseverance to fully explore without negotiation and the inclusion of charming details is the key to their capacity to manipulate the audience's feelings and emotions. In this way Idiot Syncrasy is both delightful and ingenious.

Igor and Moreno's Idiot Syncrasy was performed at The Place Tues 30 September & Wed 1 October, 8pm. 

Monday, 19 May 2014

REVIEW: Glass Pieces - Jerome Robbins, New York City Ballet

Jerome Robbins' three-part 'Glass Pieces' is a powerful and quick-moving exploration of traditional ballet vocabulary intermixed with postmodern work, accompanied by music composed by Philip Glass. Set against a graph paper backdrop, the New York City Ballet dancers' fast pace and sudden bursts of energy are reminiscent of the unmistakable urban energy of the city. 

The work opens with the full cast walking swiftly about the stage, dressed in costume designer Ben Benson's mismatching shades of red, pink, blue, green, gold and grey. The space is alive with bodies and colour, as the dancers charge forward through a scene that could be a busy train station or city street. Glass' Rubric with its repeated rhythms, shifting patterns and sweeping force drives the dancers through the space. From the outset Robbins asserts and captures the repetitive and fast paced energy of urban American life. Amongst the chaos of the dancers, sudden bursts of energy erupt as female dancers are lifted by their male counterparts, and as soloists suddenly jump or leap before returning to a fast walk. The sporadic bursts of energy are crisp amongst the fast pace of the dancers' abrupt changes in direction.

The second part, set to Glass' Facades, sees the female corps de ballet lined against the back of the stage. The silhouetted bodies of the female dancers roll across the front of the backdrop as they perform bouncy walks and repeated sustained arm movements and pliés, which match the tempo and rhythm of the music. In front of them an intimate and athletic duet unfolds, performed by principal dancers Wendy Whelan and Adrian Danchig-Waring. Whelan is carried on and off stage by Danchig-Waring, lifted at the waist, her arms and legs effortlessly split and held almost horizontally. Facades has a much slower pace overall, yet the direct correlation of movement to music maintains the steady pace of the entire work. 

Finally, 'Glass Pieces' is concluded with an incredibly powerful and driving performance by the male dancers of the cast, accompanied by an excerpt from Glass' opera 'Akhnaten', Funeral of Amenhotep. The men respond to the fast rhythm of the hammering drums and drawn out strings by grounding themselves into the floor, as they run and leap in unison, before the female corps de ballet rejoin them for the conclusion of the work. The rich, deep sounds of Funeral of Amenhotep is distinctly different from Rubric and Facades, separating the conclusion from the rest of the work and creating a successful climax to the ballet.

'Glass Pieces' is a hugely expansive and athletic ballet that consumes the space and breathes Glass' score. Robbins is successful in creating a dazzling ballet that incorporates the elements of postmodernism and examines the fast pace of urban life. 

Georgina Pazcoguin and Adrian Danchig-Waring talk about how the corps makes the dance in this Robbins favorite with music by Philip Glass.

Choreography: Jerome Robbins
Composer: Philip Glass
Production design: Robbins, Ronald Bates
Costume design: Ben Benson
Lighting design: Ronald Bates
Conductor: Clotilde Otranto

Monday, 14 April 2014

"Seasons changed, and the years went by but Roxaboxen was always there" : 'Really Is, Always Was' - Julia Corrigan

This weekend Goucher College held its annual Dance Concert in the stunning Kraushaar Auditorium. My friend Julia presented her choreographic work Really Is, Always Was at the concert. There was something very moving about the way her dancers moved through her choreography. There was a real sense of intent that drew me in from the outset. As well as making me want to go straight to the studio and dance, it also made me want to write. So here is a little review/stream of thoughts about Julia's work.

Julia Corrigan's Really Is, Always Was is a profoundly moving and driving work that was adjudicated in ACDFA (American College Dance Festival's Mid Atlantic Conference) in March 2014. Corrigan's work explores the idea of embodied memory and childhood. What does memory look like when manifested in our bodies? The work is influenced by the children's book Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran. Roxaboxen explores the imagination of a group of children who create their own imaginary town in the desert, using the sand, cacti and rocks around them. The incorporation of intense child-like happiness that can be found in freedom and play, is manifested as human curiosity and exploration in Corrigan's choreography.

The evocative and driving La Grande Cascade, Salento and Noel Aux Balkans composed by René Aubry sets the sincere, reminiscent tone of the work. Aubry's accompaniments drive the bodies through the journey of the choreography. The quick bursts of guitar and the driving piano melody match the dancers' bursts of energy and suspension as they spin, swinging and snaking their arms through the movement. The dancers crawl and cling and reach out with long graceful arms; longing for something lost, something distant, something out of reach.

The sense of melancholy created by the music is counteracted by the sweeping momentum of the choreography. Corrigan's beautiful use of her dancers serves her well in her choice of spatial formation that highlights the driving force behind the music. Dancers gather together in a tight clump on their knees, peeling away in canon and quickly travelling to the opposite side of the clump, before suddenly slipping back into the swinging, spinning momentum. There is a growing sense of overwhelming energy as the dancers seem to turn and fall and spin between the divide between memory and reality. Some seem to get lost in their memory, sinking deeper as their bodies lose control of what's real, while others seem to balance precariously on the knife edge between the two realms.

There is a sudden eruption of child-like delight as two dancers leap and jump across the empty stage. The space is theirs and suddenly the atmosphere becomes lively and full of human vitality. Two other dancers grip each others wrists and spin like children in a playground. It is at this point that the wondrous timelessness of McLerren's children's book becomes discernible. This careful amalgamation of child-like delight and poignant sincerity is incredibly powerful and thought provoking.

At last a single dancer walks calmly through the mass of bodies spinning and turning and falling through space. Among the chaos and storm of our memories there is still calmness and rationality. We all remember the sun-burnt blue skies of our childhood and familiarity of the grass between our toes. But how do we disentangle the divides between memory and reality? And what we can and can no longer have?

Monday, 3 March 2014

Meet The Artist: Alex & Xan (the Median Movement) #JACK

Brooklyn based choreographers and couple Alex Springer and Xan Burley recently came to Goucher College to do a modern dance residency with Goucher dance students. They led modern dance master classes in some intermediate and advanced level dance classes and attended seminar to conduct a question and answer session with students. At the end of the week, Friday 28th February 2014, the couple presented excerpts from their latest work in progress at an informal Meet The Artist Event in one of Goucher's dance studios.

The Median Movement, Alex & Xan's artistic collaboration is, as Alex described, based on the meeting place or mid-point where people share commonalities. With an emphasis on creating work for both stage and film, the Median Movement appears to draw inspiration from improvisation techniques and has clear roots in release, graham and limón modern dance techniques. Having graduated from University of Michigan with liberal arts degrees and continued to work together as performers with Doug Varone and Dancers and within their own company, both artists have learnt to think conceptually about their choreographic projects.

Excerpts of JACK, their current work-in-progress, were performed by twelve goucher dance students, whom auditioned the previous weekend. The idea of a movement alphabet was explored and manipulated by the dancers. Each letter of the alphabet was given a particular movement and then each dancer altered these letters- using varied dynamics, spatial orientation and size, to represent the alphabet in capitals and italics. Using this variation, Alex & Xan layered the choreography by instructing the dancers to use different rhythms, patterns, directions, movements, dynamic qualities and relationships to each other. Duets and trios arose randomly as one dancer's movement accidently matched or complemented another dancer's.

The couple presented another exercept that discussed the idea of accumulation and the power of group mentality, which also used the idea of layering. Set to Tread On The Trail by Terry Riley, a single dancer stamps her feet and repeats the word 'Jack', then another dancer joins her and copies, then another and another, until a tight semi circle around the original dancer forms. The gradual build up of bodies, vocal repetitions of the word 'Jack', combined with the increased speed of the stamping establishes an overwhelming and crushing sense of choas. The group suddenly break out of the repetition and all lean forward, glaring into the eyes of a single dancer that faces them, alone. She runs to escape and suddenly the group has fixated on another dancer, who falls to the ground as they quickly switch direction and lean towards her in unison. The notion of power in numbers, and of a group's tipping point to destruction, as Xan explained, is evident in this excerpt. The incorporation of vernacular movement; running, walking, falling, leaning, allows the uninformed spectator to successfully find a narrative within the movement that reflects the chaos, turmoil and destruction of the excerpt.

As Artists in Residence the couple were hugely inspiring. Their organic and natural approach to choreography and incorporation of improvisation, variation in rhythm and group relationships were intriguing. In addition, as teachers both Alex and Xan were exciting and dynamic to work with. I really tried not to get cheesey or deep in this post, but it wouldn't be a successful post without a bit of cheese: as one of my friends in the residency said, it is these experiences that remind us that we are on the right track.