Sunday, 29 September 2019

REVIEW: Breakin' Convention Presents the illusory Yaman Okur & Jean-Philippe Collard Neven in 1mm Au Dessus Du Sol

Fri 27 Sep
Lilian Baylis Studio
Breakin’ Convention Presents: Yaman Okur & Philippe Collard-Neven - 1mm Au Dessus Du Sol

Breakin' Convention is the powerhouse behind UK hip hop dance-theatre. The festival showcases the finest hip hop and provides a platform for emerging dance artists in the genre. This year, prominent B-Boy Yaman Okur returns to Breakin' Convention Presents with collaborator Jean-Philippe Collard Neven with the captivating 1mm Au Dessus Du Sol.

The stage is set with a skate ramp and a grand piano, at which the effortlessly cool Neven plays. But Collard Neven isn't just the accompanying musician, his role brings an extra layer of comedy and wit to the narratives that unfold onstage.

Okur is easy in his movement, he glides through illusory floor-work and complex inversions. As well as being a talented dancer, Okur is an excellent entertainer; he builds a clear relationship with the audience. Darting looks of embarrassment and fear as he flirts with a young woman and later spars with an invisible giant.

The absurdity doesn't stop coming. A reoccuring theme involving laundry baskets sees Okur under threat from the white baskets that are flung down the skate ramp by Collard Neven, who lurks behind the ramp. Okur's unique style of breaking and use of props means he can blend balmy narratives with extraordinary tricks, the result is captivating.

This multi-layered work of dance is hugely accessible and entertaining. If you've never been to the theatre or watched a ballet, 1mm Au Dessus Du Sol is a great place to start.

According to an interview by Broadway World, the inspiration behind 1mm Au Dessus Du Sol came to Okur during an earthquake in Turkey, in which 55,000 people died within 45 seconds. Okur said "feeling the ground shaking was by far one of the scariest things I've felt, and I told myself that night that I wished I was above the ground to not feel it shaking".

Maya Pindar

Friday, 27 September 2019

INTERVIEW: James Pett and Travis Clausen-Knight on their creation of Ley Line with Yukiko Tsukamoto

James Pett and Travis Clausen-Knight of Fabula Collective present Ley Line, their first independent work in partnership Japan Foundation London, since leaving Company Wayne McGregor earlier this year. Ahead of the performance on 08 October, I chatted to James and Travis about the creation of Ley Line and their experiences as dancers and creators.

James Pett, Travis Clausen-Knight & Guest Choreographer Kihako Narisawa in Ley Line

Maya Pindar: What can we expect from Ley Line?

James Pett: Ley Line is a quadruple bill of four very exciting and emotionally stirring works. Three choreographers with all very different voices and movement language. 

Travis Clausen-KnightBesides three unique choreographers I think you can expect to see very mature creations that connect to human concepts we often overlook. For a small gathering of artists I think these may be some of the most talented people I have worked with. Just the sheer emotion and connection shared will be evident.

MP: Can you tell us how these four works came together?

JP: Fabula Collective's Director Yukiko Tsukamoto is Japanese and wants to bridge the gap between her time living in London and her home in Tokyo. Yukiko asked Kihako Narisawa, a Japanese choreographer based in Switzerland, to join myself and Travis to create work for Ley Line, and her piece a.é.p.s will be presented alongside our work.

Travis and I premiered our duet Informal Between last year at Sadler’s Wells where we first starting working with Yukiko. This duet is the starting point of our Fabula Collective journey - the duet has a very beautiful meaning for the three of us and it made sense for it to return again! Travis is creating a trio SALT to WATER and I am creating a solo entitled Man of the Crowd - based on the book by Edgar Allan Poe.

TCK: Yukiko Tsukamoto is the mind behind a program she is keen to produce. James and myself had already worked on a show with her for Japan and she wanted to expand on it for a London performance. It is because of her that these works are possible and I feel, at the same time, the highly creative energy we all share naturally, if not in such a clichéd sense, was going to bring us together inevitably.

MP: What sort of choreographic processes did you use when creating Ley Line?

JP: In terms of my solo Man of the Crowd, I have been doing a lot of research in the studio. The piece looks at various characters within society. I had to develop the movement qualities and emotional expression to each character specifically. They needed to be distinct. I tend to work very deeply with inner feeling to generate movement. This can be stimulated by images, music and text. From here, I did a lot of improvisation where I would film everything to capture that inner feeling being expressed outwardly in my body. This live capture was the key to me finding the particular movement and emotional language for the ten minute solo. 

TCK: I really enjoy working with a mix of approaches with my dancers as I feel that gets me the most depth of my concepts but also connects me to them individually. I will often generate an open idea that expands gradually as my dancers construct it alongside me. This can be done in tasks or by directly creating on them, where I will in some way question them physically. In this instance we also had a particular set of props, though I don’t want to give too much away. This prop made me explore space and how I can influence a single movement with it. It also led us to consider that a body isn’t always your partner. Sometimes an inanimate object can be an entity all of its own.

MP: Can you tell us a bit about your time in Japan? How did your time there inform your dance practice?

JP: Japan was an incredible experience, to bring modern contemporary works to a traditional Noh Theatre in Tokyo. The fusion of tradition and contemporary dance worked really beautifully. Being a very spiritual theatre, I felt it definitely gave our works a more spiritual sense.

TCK: I love Japan for its culture and richness towards tradition and the new. I’ve always loved popular culture, so seeing so many takes on their own traditions used alongside modern society is very synergistic if you will. I think this somewhat pushed my creative voice and encouraged me to push boundaries on what may be considered odd. Japanese, as well as other Asian movement styles, have intrigued me as there is a fluidity and difference to the technique. Asia in particular has grown something unique.

MP: Have either of you had any mentors or important role models? How have they supported you and/or your work?

JP: I have worked with Richard Alston and Wayne McGregor during my dance career. They have both guided me greatly into the dancer I am now and I am very grateful for this. They both believe in supporting the next generation of dancers and choreographers.

TCK: I’ve never been directly mentored but I have had many people teach me through my experiences with them. Wayne McGregor pushed me in a creative and ambitious sense and I attribute him to really helping me be convicted to my ideas. I like to think that all artists support each other in some small way. Considering our current strenuous times I believe that our communities, in the arts, strive to push the correct message and to shape the world into an ideal, rather than for personal want or gain.

MP: If you could collaborate with anyone, who would be your dream artist to work with?

JP: This a great question, there are many! Some are no longer alive - Merce Cunningham and Pina Bausch. Currently I really love Crystal Pite's works.

TCK: Without hesitation I would have worked with the incredible mind of Pina Bausch just to witness her in the studio. Other artists I’m wishing to collaborate with would be Olafur Eliasson, Studio Drifts creators Ralph Nauta and Lonneke Gordijn, musician Thom Yorke and also band Solomon Grey. My guilty pleasure would be Sia.

MP: What words of advice would you give other emerging dance artists beginning their own careers?

JP: Work hard, always remain authentic to your ideas, do not waste time in searching for appreciation and fame - always keep the focus on your work.

TCK: You have to go with your gut and push consistently to grow yourself. Hard work is a constant that only gives back to you, so no matter what you choose you must always strive to do your best and be open to what is being said. Respect everything and never look down. Offer your hand out to those who may ask. Everyone knows suffering and wishes to be supported.

MP: Can you sum up Ley Line is just three words?

JP: Hypnotic, emotional, dynamic.

TCKYou, myself and us.

Ley Line is showing at Sadler's Wells on 08 October. Tickets are available here:

Maya Pindar

Thursday, 19 September 2019

REVIEW: Akram Khan's Giselle returns to Sadler's Wells

Wed 18 Sep
Sadlers Wells
English National Ballet - Akram Khan's Giselle

Akram Khan's version of the classic ballet transports Giselle from her village to a migrant garment factory. Khan's re-imagination of Giselle with English National Ballet fuses ballet, contemporary dance and reoccurring moments of South Asian dance in the form of mudra hands. Tamara Rojo is a strong and resolute Giselle, contrary to the timid and shy girl presented in the classical ballet.

James Streeter in Akram Khan's Giselle (PC: Laurent Liotardo)

The space opens in darkness, gradually illuminating set designer Tim Yip's monolithic wall, which tilts and moves. Heads down and palms spread wide against the wall, the dancers push against it, leaving behind dusty handprints as they step away. The dancers are dressed in shades of grey, the men in tunic-style t-shirts and the women in gauzy skirts.

Act I sees Albrecht (James Streeter) and Hilarion (Jeffrey Cirio) vying for Giselle's attention. The young men stumble through the factory as they confront one another and chase after Giselle. The drama culminates when the factory landlords, dressed in ostentatious Hunger Games-esque costumes, demand Albrecht return with them to their world. Abandoning the factory, Albrecht leaves Giselle to die of a broken heart.

The Landlords in Akram Khan's Giselle (PC: Laurent Liotardo)

But it's Act II that is truly captivating. Khan's Wilis (the ghosts of wronged female factory workers) are both beautiful and ghoulish. Stina Quagebeur is an excellent Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis. She towers over Albrecht and Hilarion, with an all powerful and ethereal other-worldliness. Khan equips the Wilis with long, thin sticks reminiscent of sewing needles, which they strike against the floor and pummel into the bodies of the young men.

Rojo and Streeter's final pas de deux is devastatingly beautiful. Caught somewhere between life and death, Rojo slips through Streeter's arms. He seems to step right through Rojo as he reaches out to hold her. A series of tender and gravity defying lifts ends as Rojo's body turns limp and floppy.

The Wilis in Akram Khan's Giselle (PC: Laurent Liotardo)
Stina Quagebeur in Akram Khan's Giselle (PC: Laurent Liotardo)

The only missing link is the resoluteness of Khan's storyline. Without the guidance of programme notes, Tim Yip's set could just as easily be a refugee camp or the borderlines along Trump's wall, or an industrial wasteland. Is Albrecht another migrant worker? How does Giselle die? Who is Hilarion, and why should we care about him?

Despite the gaps in the storytelling, the atmosphere that Khan creates, with the help of Vincenzo Lamagna's haunting score and Mark Henderson's atmospheric lighting design, is enough to satisfy. Giselle serves up heaps of intensity and depth that more than makes up for the holes in Khan's narrative.

Maya Pindar

English National Ballet - Akram Khan's Giselle is showing at Sadlers Wells until 28 September.

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

INTERVIEW: Feet Off The Ground revisit The Way They Were Then

This year Feet Off The Ground revisit their work The Way They Were Then in their upcoming tour in London and Nottingham. The company are an all-female collective of dance artists that represent women as strong and physical in their dance work. I met with Robyn Holder to chat about the inspiration behind The Way They Were Then and their development of the work.

Maya Pindar: Can you tell us a little bit about The Way They Were Then?

Robyn HolderThe Way They Were Then is a piece inspired by a book of short stories by Uraguyan author Eduardo Galeano. Premiered at Resolution! 2017, the piece has undergone a development process spanning two years.

MP: What inspired you to revisit the work this year?

RH: When we created the work for Resolution, the process was short and we felt we didn’t have enough time to delve into the stories and choreographic processes. Some sections of the piece were well explored and others were underdeveloped. We really liked the work, felt excited by it and wanted it to realise its full potential!

MP: What sort of choreographic processes did you use when developing The Way They Were Then?

RH: We often work with a number of tools during the choreographic process, one that was key to this process was devising movement tasks based on themes with clear physical limitations and restrictions and then working to find the possibilities within these parameters.

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

RH: We have really enjoyed having the opportunity to come back into the studio and see our ideas and research materialise. Having our dramaturg Neus Gil Cortes in the studio with us really shook everything up and gave us clarity!

MP:  You collaborated with other groups of women as part of the development of The Way They Were Then. Can you tell us more about this collaboration?

RH: During the R&D last year, we collaborated with a group of local women from Nottingham called Faltonia whose voices and personal experiences directly informed the process. Discussing and exploring the stories with a diverse group of different ages and backgrounds helped us to see things from different perspectives and gave the work more depth. As part of this project we will be working with young women to create short curtain raisers for our performances. The curtain raisers will explore themes from the piece: female empowerment, oppression, rebellion and unity.

MP: Can you tell us about the music and the relationship it has to the choreography and/or inspiration behind the work?

RH: The music that has been created for this piece by Sabio Janiak creates an internal feeling of the pace and rhythm for us as dancers. The score also sets the tone, supports the intention and illuminates the stories.

MP: Finally, can you sum up what we can expect to see at the performances in London and Nottingham in three words?

RHWomen, Stories, Belonging

The Way They Were Then will be showing in London on 26 September and in Nottingham on 10th October. To book tickets visit:

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

REVIEW: Jaivant Patel Dance presents a South Asian queer lens in YAATRA

Tue 16 July
Blue Elephant Theatre
Jaivant Patel Dance - YAATRA

Jaivant Patel Dance presents an evening of solo Kathak dance, exploring the intersection of faith and sexuality within the context of his Indian heritage. Patel's performance is both vulnerable and resolute as he delves into his own narrative as an LGBTQ+ man of South Asian descent.

The stage is bear but with gold bells suspended from the ceiling. The ringing of a bell marks the beginning of the piece, just as it marks the beginning of worship and the invoking of gods and goddesses in pooja (prayer or worship). Patel is dressed in a long red tunic and pants with a gold scarf draped over his shoulder. His eyes follow gestural hands and gaze out across the audience. Lost in Hassan Mohyeddin's percussive score, Patel smiles, striking his feet and gliding through the space.

YAATRA is woven with feminine motifs that emphasise a sense of gender fluidity. In one section, the lights drop, illuminating only Patel's ankles. Patel's feet move quickly and rhythmically as his heels beat the ground. Our attention is drawn to the ghungroo (ankle bells) around his ankles and his painted toenails: it's possible to be both masculine and feminine at once. This dream-like sequence is interrupted by a woman shouting. Patel sits down, and the words "boys don't wear scarves... boys don't wear nail varnish" punctuate the quiet. Patel's personal journey to understanding his sexual and gender identity is evident throughout YAATRA with these moments of cultural divergency.

YAATRA also challenges the gender binaries present in Indian mythology and epic tales. Although classical Indian dance, like Kathak, typically sees men playing women and women playing men, love stories never play out between actors of the same sex. Patel seeks to challenge this heteronormativity and asks what these narratives would look like with a male performer playing the role of a genderqueer hero falling in love with his male god.

Patel doesn't proclaim to be a classically trained Kathak dancer, instead he uses the dance form as a point of reference for his Indian heritage. Freed of a codified dance technique, YAATRA presents a man who is liberated and free to be himself. As he mentioned in the post-show Q&A, Patel's aim isn't to present more "boxes" for people to squeeze their identities into, but rather the possibility of a gender fluidity where gender and sexuality don't need to categorisation. As Patel noted in the Q&A, walking into a space of ritual can be a difficult experience for those from the LGBTQ+ community. YAATRA successfully breaks down these boundaries to create a safe space for an intimate exploration of these narratives within the context of South Asian worship.

Maya Pindar

Monday, 20 May 2019

REVIEW: Tracing Paces at Grow Tottenham

Sat 18 May
Grow Tottenham
Tracing Paces

Founded by Maisie Sadgrove, Tracing Paces hosts a series of not-for-profit immersive and community-based dance projects and workshops. Like many of the urban venues that Tracing Paces occupy, Grow Tottenham represents the decreasing number of public spaces available in cities. The event showcased live dance, an art installation and participatory activities within the setting of the community garden. 

Tracing Paces at Grow Tottenham

Sadgrove's site specific dance work is the result of four months of creation at Grow Tottenham. The work begins slowly with four dancers emerging in a clump, shuffling quickly, somewhere between zippy and jittery. The shuffling comes to an abrupt stop and the group disperse. The group draw together again, but this time they're slower, grounded and almost syrupy in their limbs. Arms thread outwards, like young shoots from the soil. Moving between bags of compost, planting borders and wooden crates, the work reflects the changing seasons in the garden.

Tracing Paces at Grow Tottenham

Moments of surprise keep the piece moving forward. While a woman gestures sowing seeds, two others disappear behind her amongst planting troughs. Behind her, legs begin to slowly extend between the troughs. One, then two, then three, then four, rise and fall. The rising leg motif reappears later in the form of an extended arm with a broken wrist, resembling the rows of dead sunflowers in the garden. The quietness of the work is punctuated by the sound of chatter, traffic and birdsong; a perfect pedestrian soundtrack.

Tracing Paces at Grow Tottenham

Sadgrove does well to bring people together in a forgotten public space. The work is peaceful and reflective, and serves to be a brilliant reminder of the quiet spaces that exist amongst the urban sprawl. 

Maya Pindar

Find out more about Tracing Paces here.

Sunday, 14 April 2019

REVIEW: Elephant in the Room: Lenry Malaolu opens a candid conversation about mental health amongst young black men

Fri 12 Apr
Camden People's Theatre
Lenre Malaolu - Elephant in the Room

Lanre Malaolu sparks an important and increasingly relevant dialogue with Elephant in the Room. You might expect a conversation about mental health to be somewhat bleak, but Malaolu's depiction of a young black man pushing through everyday life is both witty and profound. Fusing spoken word, hip-hop and physical theatre, the explosive solo draws upon the coping mechanisms and feelings of being 'stuck' that are generated by a culture of dismissal.

PC: Camilla Greenwell

The piece begins with the struggle to get out of bed. Malaolu, playing Michael, writhes on the floor, rolling and straining to push himself up, only to sink back into the floor again. From the outset, Malaolu's exploration of depression and anxiety is vivid and poignant.

Elephant in the Room is episodic, flitting between scenes in the Hackney football pitch where Michael coaches under-16s, the barber shop, the street, the doctor's surgery, and Nando's, where his friends tell him to "snap out of it". As we shift back and forth through these episodes, we move steadily through the darkness and light within Michael's life. Dark scenes of helplessness are interjected with lighthearted humour and caricatures of people we all familiar with. 

PC: Camilla Greenwell

Malaolu addresses the experience of being both in the midst of an emotional breakdown and not being able to talk openly about it. It's here that he skillfully engages with the intersection between toxic masculinity, mental health and race. His feelings of loneliness and fear of a downward spiral are dismissed and denied by every other man in his life. Michael is repeatedly told that he's just in a phase: he's active, fit, has a job and just needs to "dominate". 

PC: Camilla Greenwell

By opening up about his own experiences of depression and anxiety, Malaolu opens up a conversation that most young men, especially those from ethnic minority groups, don't feel able to engage with. Malaolu has pointed at the elephant in the room, and now we need to talk about it.

Maya Pindar

Elephant in the Room continues at Camden People's Theatre until 20 April 2019.

Saturday, 16 March 2019

REVIEW: Ballet Black serves up an electric triple bill

Fri 15 Mar
The Barbican Centre
Ballet Black - Triple Bill

To mark Ballet Black's 18th season, Artistic Director Cassa Pancho presents an exciting triple bill: a restoration of Pendulum, first performed ten years ago; Click!, a playful work choreographed by Sophie Laplane; and finally the exquisite Ingoma, created by Ballet Black's very own Mthuthuzeli November, the first company member commissioned to create a main stage ballet.

In Pendulum, dancers Sayaka Ichikawa and Mthuthuzeli November oscillate through suspension and powerful shifts of movement. Set to Steve Reich's rumbling score, the short duet swings between moments of combat and intimacy, as Ichikawa and November circle one another and then launch into fleshy phrases. The duo move with exact precision: clean lines and perfect fouettés. This, combined with rippling shoulders and sumptuously deep lunges, demonstrates Ballet Black's skill and ability to hybridise dance forms.

Click! PC: Bill Cooper

Click!, Laplane's episodic exploration of the gestural meanings of clicking the fingers, is both groovy and tender. With the dancers dressed in bright suits and lit with coloured spotlights, Click! has a distinctly 80s feel to it. While Ebony Thomas and Marie Astrid Mence's duet is playful and cartoon-like, José Alves and Cira Robinson's duet is wrought with tender embraces. They cling to one another, pushing their foreheads together as they shift through moments of contact; they're a couple that just 'click' together.

Ingoma, PC: Bill Cooper

The highlight of the night, Ingoma, starts slowly. The dancers tread about a dark stage in wellies, hoisting rope over their shoulders and tipping buckets of dirt onto the floor. A huddled conversation and the dimming of the lights marks the beginning of a turbulent and powerful narrative. Choreographed by November, the piece delves into the loss and pain precipitated by the 1940s South African miners' strike, where over 1200 workers were injured and at least 9 killed. Ingoma has a relentless energy that propels the dancers through the movement. Even in moments of quiet and stillness, there's a driving rhythm that bubbles beneath the surface. Ichikawa's portrayal of a woman who's lost her partner to the strikes is captivating. A fist pumping motif used by the company develops from a powerful symbol of resistance to an image of the strained protests of a grief-stricken woman who's lost her loved-one. Ingoma demonstrates not only the individual physicality of each dancer, but their strength as an assembly. The company move as one beast, sweeping across the shadowy space, pick-axes above their heads and fists held high.

Ingoma, PC: Mthuthuzeli November

While Pancho is triumphant in her objective of opening ballet up to black and ethnic minority dancers by creating an entire troupe of BAME role models, it seems her aim of making Ballet Black obsolete is still far off. Last year, ENB came under criticism for splashing images of first artist Precious Adams across their marketing campaign for Swan Lake, despite Adams not being cast as a principle for the production. Tokenism? You decide. In the very same year Adams also came under criticism herself for refusing to wear pink ballet tights, in favour of flesh tone tights that matched her own skin tone.

For now, regardless of whether or not Ballet Black become redundant, there will indeed still be a place for the company's artistic talent, distinctive repertory and identity.

Maya Pindar

Ballet Black's triple bill continues at Barbican Centre until 17 March

Saturday, 9 March 2019

REVIEW: Shelley Owen and Josh Slater in TRY|TRYING|TRIED at Blue Elephant Theatre

Fri 08 Mar
Blue Elephant Theatre
Shelley Owen and Josh Slater - TRY|TRYING|TRIED

Contemporary dance artists Shelley Owen and Josh Slater explore the vulnerability of human relationships. The opening of the episodic duet sees Owen and Slater sat side-by-side on chairs upstage. They could be two strangers in a train station or a couple in their own kitchen. Owen moves softly with arms that sweep and thread. Dressed in jeans and t-shirts, the couple run and walk about the space. There is nothing formal, nor pretentious, about TRY|TRYING|TRIED.

Josh Slater and Shelley Owen in TRY|TRYING|TRIED

The duo step forward toward two tidy piles of clothes, folded carefully on blocks. They layer up, pulling on long-sleeves, jumpers, hats and scarfs over their heads. The tone changes: suddenly it's a competition. The couple pose provocatively on the blocks, arching their backs and throwing their heads back. The competitive posing eventually ends with Owen and Slater scrabbling around on the floor tearing at their clothes until both are naked but for their underwear.  

The soundscape of pedestrian sounds, chatter and rail announcements gives way to the retro soul of Paloma Faith's Just Be. Clad in a black bra and underpants, Owen opens a bottle of red wine and sets out two glasses. While Slater carefully folds the clothes that are now strewn about the space, Owen drinks half the bottle of wine. A distinctly somber tone seems to permeate TRY|TRYING|TRIED during this episode. Despite how affecting Paloma Faith's lyrics are, it might have been more moving to see Owen polish off that half a bottle of wine in total silence. 

Shelley Owen and Josh Slater in TRY|TRYING|TRIED

TRY|TRYING|TRIED honestly reveals the sensitivity and vulnerability of intimate relationships. Overall, Owen and Slater present a refreshingly unpretentious and honest work of dance, which left me simply wanting more. I wanted to know more about the competition within the relationship and I wanted more about that half a bottle of red wine. 

Maya Pindar

TRY|TRYING|TRIED continues for one more night at Blue Elephant Theatre on Sat 09 March 2019. For more information and to book tickets head over to the website.