Thursday, 27 December 2018

REVIEW: Uchenna Dance's Hansel & Gretel has the whole family bouncing in their seats

Thurs 20 Dec
The Place
Uchenna Dance - Hansel & Gretel

Choreographer Vicki Igbokwe retells the classic story of Hansel & Gretel, amalgamating house, waacking, vogue and forms of African and contemporary dance in the children's search for home. Igbokwe's version sees the two fearless siblings embark on a journey from their childhood hometown, dropping them in the middle of the hustle and bustle of busy London. Colourful, quirky and set to the funkiest 90s RnB and Ghanaian pop sounds, Hansel & Gretel has the whole family bouncing in their seats.

PC: Foteini Christofilopoulou

A soundscape of city traffic accompanies the children and their guardian, Wasi, as they journey by boat to the UK. The score is overlaid with the repeating voiceover: "same boat makes us family". Lines like this ring true for those who's parents or grandparents arrived in Britain some decades ago, and who's roots grew within the same communities with which they arrived in Britain. Rather than following breadcrumbs, Hansel and Gretel follow a string of landmarks that lead to them from Kings Cross Station to Brixton. Separated from Wasi, the two siblings boldly take on the care system and the adults they come into contact with, including, of course, the evil witch.

PC: Foteini Christofilopoulou

The duo dip and dive, as they tease and hide from one another, sticking their tongues out and waggling their fingers. The cast are light on their feet, chasing each other through moments of physical theatre, acrobatic inversions and cool, funky house. Undulating torsos and unfurling arms are set atop deep transfers of weight. Igbokwe's choreography is bright, fun and silky smooth.

While Hansel & Gretel is certainly aimed at children and young people, there is plenty for the adults in the audience too. Igbokwe quietly points towards the implicit socio-political backdrop of migration that hangs behind the themes of home, youth and family in Hansel & GretelA socially and politically conscious work of dance, Hansel & Gretel is woven with reminders of the Windrush, the current debate on borders and immigration, and the UK state care system which awaits many unaccompanied arrivals.

PC: Foteini Christofilopoulou

PC: Foteini Christofilopoulou

However, the strength of Hansel & Gretel lies in Igbokwe's ability to create a truly family-friendly experience that not only engages children but includes them too. Dancers Esme Benjamin, Rudzani Moleya, Mayowa Ogunnaike and Marc Stevenson enlist the audience's help in games of Hide and Seek and What's the Time Mr Wolf, encouraging the children to point and shout out at the dancers. Towards the end, the children are invited on stage to dance along to Composer and Sound Designer Kweku Aacht's eclectic score. 

PC: Foteini Christofilopoulou

Igbokwe's Hansel and Gretel are resourceful, courageous children. By thinking on their feet and using their imagination, they take control of their lives and their own destinies. Above all, 
Igbokwe is triumphant in creating dance that is not only accessible and fun, but that engages the next generation of young dance makers and audience members.

Maya Pindar

Thursday, 22 November 2018

REVIEW: Ella&co's #nofilter on millennial life and social media

Wed 21 Nov
Blue Elephant Theatre
Ella&co - #nofilter

Do you find yourself constantly reaching for your phone? Endlessly reading self-help Buzzfeed articles? Instagram-ing your smashed avocado on toast? Sharing your #yoga journey [prayer hand emoji] on Facebook? Obsessing over Kim K? Sorting a #cheekyNandos on the group chat? Or dreaming of the guy or gal who will also swipe right to you, initiating (hopefully) a Tinder-induced whirlwind romance? You could be (god forbid) a millennial. 

Dancers Eva Escrich and Julia Jordan in #nofilter (PC: 
Lidia Crisafulli)

In #nofilter, Ella&co take us on a journey of self-confession in the era of social media and pop culture. Beginning with a ping!, #nofilter is cheeky and playful from the outset. The piece is episodic, steering us through short sections that start and finish abruptly, as if we're scrolling through a newsfeed onstage. A torrent of notification alerts separates each section, swiping the dancers across the stage into the next section. My favourite one? The Sims: set to the reassuring and bouncy sound of The Sims soundtrack, dancers Julia Jordan and Eva Escrich wander about the stage, glassy eyed and uncoordinated, waving their arms above their heads at their gamers. 

Dancers Julia Jordan and Ella Fleetwood in #nofilter (Lidia Crisafulli)

The dancers are light and easy on their feet. They shift comfortably through moments of unison, short monologues, freeze frames and contact improvisation. They're a versatile cast with bold energy and personality. Amy Morvell's reaction at being left out (or FOMO "fear of missing out" as the programme notes explain in the "Millennial Dictionary"), is easy to empathise with. There is no worse feeling than seeing a Boomerang of your friends, clinking glasses and "having the time of their lives" without you. We've all been there.

Dancers Amy Morvell and Eva Escrich in #nofilter (PC: Lidia Crisafulli)

Overall, choreographer Ella Fleetwood is successful in creating a work of dance that is both thought-provoking and fun. She does well to question the impacts of social media and the constant use of screens on our wellbeing and mental health. Are our online profiles a true reflection of our "real" selves? Have we altered the way we look at ourselves and our peers? Have we become addicted to the instant gratification of our phones and online profiles?

Dancers Eva Escrich and Julia Jordan in #nofilter (PC: Lidia Crisafulli)

As Ella noted in the post-show Q&A, despite the company's work with 11-19 year-olds, some of the references in #nofilter will go over the heads of younger audiences. But does this really matter? Is #nofilter truly a commentary on millennial life? Or is it, rather, a broader commentary on the workings of social media, especially for a generation of young people who have increasingly never experienced life without it?

With its tiny stage and cosy seating, Blue Elephant Theatre's intimate setting conceals nothing. It is definitely a venue for emerging dance artists willing to showcase the bare essentials of their choreography- and in this case Ella&co present honest, bare dance that does not need to hide behind production frills.

Maya Pindar

Find out more about ella&co and other upcoming events and performances here!

Thursday, 15 November 2018

REVIEW: Akademi presents The Troth - a moving tribute to the fate of 60,000 Indian soldiers

Tue 13 Nov
The Place
Akademi The Troth

Inspired by Chandradhar Sharma Guleri's icononic Hindi short story Usne Kha Tha, choreographer Gary Clarke's love story follows young Indian men from the Punjab to the Belgian trenches of the First World War. The entire performance is set against a rolling stream of artistic and archival images of Indian soldiers projected onto a screen behind the dancers. Subtitles, similar to those of the silent movie era, as producer Mira Kaushik OBE noted in the post-show Q&A, guide us through the narrative.

Vidya Patel as Leela (PC: Glyn Ley)

Beginning in rural Punjab, the cast jump, skip and run about the stage. Clad in kurtas and black turbans, they mime sewing, carrying pots on their heads, squatting and holding hands. Lehna's (danced by Subhash Viman Gorania) and Leela's (Vidya Patel) central love story begins as they stumble into one another in a busy market: a sort-of Bollywood "meet-cute". After a few more intermittent bumps in the market over the next few years, their love story twists after Leela becomes betrothed to another. After receiving the call to arms, Lehna promises to protect Leela's husband and son on the battlefield. Driven by his unfaltering love, he keeps his promise to Leela at the cost of his own life.

Subhash Viman Gorania and Vidya Patel in The Troth (PC: Simon Richardson)

The cast are a gorgeous ensemble. Patel is excellent in her role of Leela. She brings her Kathak dance training to the role beautifully with easy fluidity, gorgeous gestural hands and an ever-so-expressive face. As the only woman on stage, she is a stark reminder of those left behind and the suffering that ensued at home. The men succeed in showing us the brotherhood that emerges between soldiers, especially for those so far from home. Subhash Viman Gorania and Mithun Gill move with both strength and playfulness, as they slap one other on the shoulder, dive into the floor and hold each other's limp bodies. Alistair Goldsmith is bold in his performance as a German soldier. He slips between creepy and authoritarian with over-exaggerated leg extensions and a slinky spine.

The Troth (PC: Carrie Davenport)

However, despite its horrific context, The Troth lacks horror. With its percussive military score; intense drills of jumping jacks, push ups and skipping; and fanfare of bagpipes and trumpets, it veers almost too close to rose-tinted. Apart from Patel's moving portrayal of a mother's despair and panic as her loved ones leave home, there is very little "grit". But The Troth isn't alone. Despite its beauty, dance has often failed to re-tell tragedy and horror- you can look to BalletBoyz's Young Men for a similar and useful point of comparison for the Centenary. 

The Troth (PC: Simon Richardson)

As Kaushik explained in the Q&A, The Troth does not directly discuss British colonialism. It is simply a love story set against a backdrop of war. Considering the generous support Akademi received from the British Army, it is not surprising that The Troth steers clear of statements about the brutal political context that framed the enlistment of 1.3 million Indian soldiers. Nevertheless, The Troth succeeds in opening a conversation about the largest "voluntary" force assembled for the First World War. Under Gary Clarke's choreographic vision, Akademi excellently pays tribute to the fate of 60,000 soldiers from undivided India who gave active service to First World War.

Lest we forget.

Maya Pindar

Monday, 12 November 2018

INTERVIEW: ella&co on #nofilter

Next week I have the pleasure of reviewing ella&co's #nofilter, a dance work that promises a comedic journey through Instagram, avocado on toast and boomerang obsessions. Both irreverent and thought-provoking, #nofilter examines millennial life in the era of social media and pop culture. In the run up to the performance at at Blue Elephant Theatre, I interview Ella Fleetwood, creator, mover and Founder of ella&co, about her choreographic process and her own thoughts on millennial life.

Maya Pindar: Can you tell us about the inspiration behind #nofilter?

Ella Fleetwood: I was very keen to make a dance work that felt relevant and timely. Being a young person today is a rather complex affair, and I wanted to explore all of the intense pressures and bizarre nuances. I work with young people a lot, and it became clear that social media is a huge part of millennial life. Social media is affecting how young people view themselves and each other- which in turn is dramatically impacting their mental health. I wanted to make a dance work that was representative and reflective of this generation. Pop culture and millennial life is so rich in regards to inspiration- from Buzzfeed articles and SIMS to kale and Kardashians.

PC: Louise Osborne

Ensuring the work was non-judgemental and accessible was a key aim. I used comedy to achieve this, allowing young people to connect without feeling lectured. I have also developed dance and wellbeing workshops which partner with #nofilter- the workshops allow young people to explore the topics from the work, along with their own mental health.

MP: What does being a millennial mean to you?

EF: Being a millennial is quite a complex identity which I am still trying to figure out to be honest! But I think for me it means the freedom to be who I want to be. I am proud to be a part of a generation which is the most accepting, accessible and switched on yet. I think we still have a very long way to go, and it is only in partnership with other generations that things can change, but this energy and drive is an exciting and encouraging force to be a part of. 

PC: Louise Osborne

MP: Can you tell us about your choreographic process for #nofilter?

EF: The process began with lots of talking and exploring millennial life. Sharing what’s trending, and then trying it out in a live performance setting. Relevance was a key aim of the process. To ensure #nofilter was fully reflective, I launched an online survey to engage a wider variety of young people to engage with the topics. This proved invaluable material in the studio- as each person has a different connection and engagement with millennial life, dependent on factors like background, race, class and age. These factors also determine the social media algorithms which manipulate the online content we engage with. So engaging as many people as possible became an important part of the process!

PC: Louise Osborne

The choreographic process involved a lot of laughing and testing out some of the bizarre, yet normalised, content we engage with online- from ‘how to get rid of your cankles in three easy steps’ to the Kiki dance challenge.

#nofilter is structured to emulate the experience of swiping through your phone. So no section lasts longer than a few minutes, and some only a few seconds. This fast pace is a key element of the show. Editing was a huge part of the choreographic process- being ruthless and cutting lots of the sections was a hard but very necessary part of the process. 

MP: What have you enjoyed the most about creating this work?

EF: I have really enjoyed laughing every day in the studio. We had so much fun making the work as millennial life, social media and pop culture are such rich, varied and surprising sources.

PC: Lidia Crisafulli

PC:  Lidia Crisafulli

MP: How important do you think the arts, or dance more specifically, are right now?

EF: I think the arts and dance have a huge amount of importance right now. We need to remind ourselves that our work has power and influence. And therefore we have power, and with power comes responsibility. Is our work and practice daring? Diverse? Inclusive? Accessible? Representative? Relevant? I think these ideas need to be on our agenda, never before have they been so important. We should also never underestimate our potential to inspire others and make change.

MP: As an emerging choreographer, what’s the best piece of advice you can share with other like-minded dance artists?

EF: As an emerging choreographer I am super aware of the fact that I am still treading out my path and figuring it all out- so certainly don’t feel like I have many answers yet! I think the best piece of advice I could give is not to compare yourself to anyone else. We are all unique artists and our journeys should reflect that. Social media has created an addictive comparison culture, but I think it’s important as artists we reject this. Follow our own journeys and support each other along the way. Plus laugh often- sometimes dance can take itself a bit too seriously!

Catch ella&co at Blue Elephant Theatre on Wednesday 21 November and find out more about ella&co here.

Maya Pindar