Sunday, 27 November 2016

REVIEW: Rashida Bumbray collaborates with Simone Leigh on Aluminium

Sat 26 Nov
Tate Modern
Simone Leigh & Rashida Bumbray - Aluminium

Closing her series of discussions, performances and workshops focusing on transatlantic Black Diaspora, Simone Leigh collaborates with New York-based choreographer and curator Rashida Bumbray on Aluminium. The immersive performance journeys through the concrete corridors of Tate Modern's the Tanks and Switch House, carrying the pain and desire to connect to African ancestry. 

Rushida Bumbray, Photo Credit: Jamie Philbert

Dressed in a floor length red dress, Bumbray sings African American spirituals, her voice echoing in the corridors. Lay down body, lay down a little a while..., a reminder of African slave burials and the influence of colonialism. The women sway slowly as they climb stairs and slip round corridors. At the top of the stairs, a young flautist and trumpeter join the quiet procession. 

In the twists of a spiral staircase, the audience look on as Bumbray and Leigh glide in their dresses. The tempo picks up, Bumbray taps and hoofs, stamping louder and lifting her skirt to reveal dozens of silver ankle shakers. The independent rhythms of Bumbray's tapping, her singing and the musicians melodies, create the familiar polyrhythm that is central to African forms of dance. 

Rashida Bumbray (left) and Simone Leigh (right) in Aluminium


The sense of pain and weariness is carried heavily in Aluminium. There is no denying that the performance moved much of the audience. Bumbray slips with ease across the boundary between post-slavery performance and the desire to connect with pre-colonial African ancestry. There is a fluidity between past and present, which serves as a stark reminder that the past can repeat itself. 

2016 has been an incredibly bleak year. Marked by a surge in police shootings in the US, the election of a bigoted US president, and a general shift to the right in Western politics. The acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012, and the countless deaths of African Americans in the years that followed, has informed a great deal of political art in recent years.

Leigh and Bumbray remind us that the historic wounds within African American communities are still open. There is still much healing to be done. 
But the entrenched systematic racism that is holding strong in US and Western politics is jabbing at these open fleshy wounds.

Maya Pindar

With thanks to Tate Modern for providing press images.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

INTERVIEW: Shaun Dillon on reworking We Stand Alone Together for Resolution! 2017

On a wintery Friday evening, I met up with fellow Roehampton alumni Shaun Dillon at London's Southbank to chat about his return to The Place's Resolution! 2017. As well as sharing his experience of reworking We Stand Alone Together, we chatted about his passion for working with young dancers and life in London as a freelance dance artist.

Shaun graduated from University of Roehampton in 2012 and set up his current venture Dillon Dance after a few years of working as a freelance artist. Notably, in 2014, Shaun worked with Matthew Bourne on Lord of The Flies. Shaun's professional works include Rise, That's Not How He Wants It, We Stand Alone Together & Where We Are.

Maya Pindar: What can you tell us about We Stand Alone Together?

Shaun DillonWe Stand Alone Together began as a 3rd year project, which has taken various forms over the years. So, for Resolution! 2017, I decided I wanted to develop it into a more fleshed out work, without the perimeters a 3rd year project has to subscribe to! 

The piece itself comes from a really personal place, stemming from the person I used to be. I wasn't the happiest, wasn't in the best place mentally. So it's interesting to let this work be informed by the person I am now. It's a very emotionally... accessible work. There are themes of frustration, anger, having to make peace with something you're not ready to make peace with. Emotional complexity and being able to connect to the work is really important to me. I want to be moved by [dance] works, to leave the theatre having been through an experience.

Photo credit: Danilo Moroni

MP: Can you sum up where your inspiration comes from for WSAT?

SD: Digging away at the surface of it, the movement comes from the trials I had as a teenager and some of the things I had to deal with. I had a lot of tension and conflict within myself- on the surface there was a constant state of rage. There's an idea of feeling strong, even though you're alone, because your struggle unites you with others in similar situations. I was desperately trying to look for help in areas that I didn't necessarily believe in. So there are themes of almost looking for a higher power. But it's not a religious piece!

MP: What's the rehearsal process like with your dancers?

SD: So it's very different to what I'm used to, which is creating work from scratch. I already have the framework and the atmosphere of the piece. The rehearsal process is very movement heavy. It's important for me as a choreographer to have my dancers really moving through space. I like unison and I like my dancers to move as a pack. So the rehearsal process is a lot of me just putting movement onto the dancers. The original piece was made entirely by myself, then I put that onto an all female cast. I like to watch movement and I feel like that was my salvation- my coming of age.

MP: What challenges have you had to overcome while reworking WSAT?

SD: The music... because the university's music licence was a bit different to The Place's! So having to restructure and explore the work with a new soundscape was really difficult. I had to almost close my ears to what the piece used to sound like. I'm collaborating with a good friend of mine Jenny Whittaker, who is composing the new original score. She's doing an amazing job. Structurally, the new score is different, but tonally it is very similar. The sounds and instruments are very similar. We're working a lot with the sound of bells- it's something that you might associate with ritualistic ceremonies, almost cult-like. 

Photo credit: Danilo Moroni

MP: Can you pick one word that describes how you feel returning to Resolution! 2017?

SD: Progression. There is a real sense of progression from last year to this year, which I suppose is very natural. The support we get, the quality of what's being produced, and hopefully that will be obvious in the final product.

MP: As an emerging choreographer, what is the best piece of advice that you have been given?

SD: Hmm.. That's such a hard question to answer! Ok, 'the first thought is usually the right one'. It's not a direct quote. But it's something that I have mulled over and streamlined over the last few years. It's about going with my gut and trusting that the first idea is usually the right one. Gut instinct. 

MP: Last question! If you could dance with anyone, who would it be?

SD: It's going to sound really cheesy- but my students. It sounds so cliché! But their youthful energy, their sense of exploration and questioning of everything, their disagreement and curiosity. They inspire me, they make me want to improve and stay current; to be a better choreographer. And that is the beauty of teaching for me. So yeah, if I could spend the day dancing with anybody, it would be my students.

Dillon Dance are performing on 4th February at The Place's Resolution! 2017. Interested in Shaun's ideas? You can find out more about Dillon Dance, the amazing cast and other projects here.

Stay tuned for more articles and reviews of We Stand Alone Together in the run up to Resolution! 2017 at The Insanity In Dancing #Res2017

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

A mixed-race dancer's perspective

In the wake of the recent US presidential election, I’m going to do something a little different on here. While not directly dance related, this post is from the perspective of a mixed-race millennial in the arts.

I hope you appreciate my honesty.

After Brexit I started thinking more about identity as someone of dual heritage. Where do we fit in now that the cracks in our complex social/political climate have begun to widen? The idea of belonging to a singular place or culture can be confusing. Speaking to other millennials of dual heritage, the feeling is shared. There is a push and pull relationship between the different cultures, religions and communities that make up our identity. This can either be enormously exciting or frustratingly painful.

As a dancer, I found my Indian heritage a blessing and a misfortune. I struggled to explain my decision to dance, especially to Indian relatives and friends. I rarely met other dancers from similar cultures. Even when I trained at Roehampton, I was surprised at how few were from diverse backgrounds. But most artists welcomed my mixed heritage- there is always room for more diversity in the arts.

My father was born in Kenya to a modest, working class Gujarati family. After moving back to India, the family immigrated to the UK in the 1970s. My mother grew up in Kent- again she grew up modestly as my father did. Both my parents climbed their respective social ladders, met one another, and then yours truly (dance writing expert connoisseur) came along in the 90s. My sister and I were brought up with British values. We were taught tolerance- to be understanding of even the most reactionary attitudes.

Circa 1999, before everything got "real" for my sister and I

So, to me the aftermath of Brexit and the derogatory anti-immigration attitudes that seemed to spill out following the referendum felt enormously regressive. I began to hear stories of my British mixed-race friends being told to go home. We left the EU, so get out.

As Trump's success opens the ruptures in the US, and the gaps in the UK widen, many wonder now where is home? Trump and Brexit was a victory for paranoia and fear, triggered by the failure of capitalist economics. There is huge uncertainty, especially among my generation.

But questioning our identity and our sense of belonging delivers exactly what Trump and Brexiters want. Trump's vision of America, like Farage's vision of Britain, is nothing more than political hype. A sordid fantasy of something completely unattainable.

Luckily for me, being absorbed in the London arts scene, I am surrounded by people and projects, which find new ways of overcoming the events of the past five months. There is a sense of solidarity amongst other young artists in London. So, this is home. The place between the comfort of Kent and the homeliness of Gujarat. It's the strange intangible place where the two cultures overlap and intermesh. I found that place in Britain.

Maya Pindar

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Vincent Dance Theatre's Virgin Territory: an uncompromising look at social media and sexualisation

Fri 4 Nov
The Place
Vincent Dance Theatre - Virgin Territory

Our cool detachment from the "real world" and fixation with the online world is Vincent Dance Theatre's guiding theme through issues of hyper sexualisation and adolescence.

Pink stiletto heels and large round balloons remind us of the voluptuous curves and overt sexualisation we see on our phones and televisions everyday. The dancers parade across an enormous rectangle of plastic grass. We laugh at a young boy who's stuffed his shirt with balloons. He tenses his bulbous muscles and grunts, posing like a bodybuilder. Somehow he crosses the border between childlike playfulness and genuine adult obsession.

Photographer Credit: Bosie Vincent

Artistic Director Charlotte Vincent casts young dancers on the cusp of pubescence, teetering on the knife-edge between childhood and adolescence. With adults and children dancing as equals, it's assumed that Virgin Territory should feel askew.

But instead the pairings are incredibly exciting to watch. Vincent's coupling of adult bodies and young bodies is extraordinary. The four children crash and slam their counterparts with uncompromising commitment.

Photographer Credit: Bosie Vincent

With the dancers constant snapping of selfies and video recording, voyeurism is key in Virgin Territory. Vincent blurs the lines between innocence and perversion. While a young dancer poses in front of her smartphone, dancer Janusz Orlik whispers into a microphone. He watches her, he Likes her, he Follows her, he doesn't want her to be afraid. The audience quietens as his observations continue to grow ever more sinister.

In between truly horrifying recounts of rape, and insights into the computer generated Sweetie, a supposedly 10-year-old Filipina girl, there are moments of charming lightheartedness. Virgin Territory dives into an amusing morris dancing scene. The troupe jig to Cecil Sharp's Country Garden, waving knickers and bras beneath lines of bunting. And then, swinging back to the more chilling content, dancer Robert Clark explores the online "Sweetie" sting, which caught 1000 male predators trying to pay the avatar to perform sexual acts. Wearing an unsettling latex mask, Clark paces in circles, spreading his arms and reaching slowly. The sense of shame is thick enough to slice.

Photographer Credit: Bosie Vincent
We all crave the (albeit empty) connection we find online. But with the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram, it is far easier for innocence to be met with deviance. There is lot to discuss within Virgin Territory, but what resonates the most is the importance of talking openly about these matters with our children and young people. It is only with frank, open discussion that we can tackle such irrefutably important issues.

Maya Pindar