Performance Reviews

Dorian Gray

Wednesday, 17 September, 2008

reviews make a temporary return as Susan Cunnigham reports on the dance goings on at this years Edinburgh Festival.


Dance always commands a high profile at the Edinburgh Festival but how refreshing to see this years headliners are not the usual suspects.

For the traditionalists, the State Ballet of Georgia brought Giselle, works of Balanchine as well as 2 UK premieres by former Bolshoi Ballet star, Yuri Possokhov and director, Alexei Ratmansky.

For those wanting something more interactive than aesthetic, Melbourne's Chunky Move stole the limelight. It has been 10 years since an Australian Dance company performed at the Festival and Mortal Engine had everyone wondering why? Filling not only the stage, but invading the auditorium with a feast for the senses.

I felt like Kaa from the jungle book as I was hypnotised by lasers, lost in the repetitive patterns of graphics, beeps and fluidity of the dancers (aided by a slanting stage allowing them to slide as they moved.) Their movement triggered light and sound, although sometimes appearing as if they were powered by electrical impulses. Never have I seen technology and biology so seamlessly intertwined.

Themes of sexuality were explored through indulgent choreography, which showed connection and isolation. And mortality; a clever use of graphics managed to illustrate bodies decomposing.

There was something ethereal about the piece and if I was ever to be abducted by aliens I'm sure it would feel a bit like this. As I looked at my watch at the end of the piece and wondered where that missing hour went. (Cue X files music!)

The themes in Matthew Bourne's latest work are anything but subtle.

The Picture of Dorian Gray adapted from Oscar Wilde's critique of late Victorian decadence is catapulted to the hedonism of present day celebrity-obsessed society. The painting that aged when Dorian sold his soul to the devil, becomes a Billboard poster that weathers for the narcissistic model.

With every production Bourne pushes the boundaries that bit further, this time allowing him to explore the gay subtext of the novel.

With adult content (should dance shows come with age certification?) that some might find uncomfortable, the dark fairy tale of sex and drugs is lifted by Bourne's fantastic sense of humour and mockery of popular culture. It slickly comments on how the media like to build 'them' up only to celebrate and aid their downfall.

Keeping in mind that Bourne's work is dance theatre, choreography can be neglected in favour of storytelling; nonetheless it is unique entertainment with a message.

Published Wed, 17 Sep, 2008 at 03:25 | Share on Facebook | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

Matthew Bourne’s 'The Car Man'

Thursday, 1 November, 2007

carman.pngReworking and updating Bizet's 'Carmen'; the original set in a 19th century Spanish cigarette factory, in 'Car Man' it becomes a sweaty garage and diner in 1960’s America. The seductive gypsy becomes the brazen drifter. Matthew Bourne's love of old musicals, in particular the cinematic versions, are apparent as is his great sense of humour.

The music, adapted by Terry Davies, is not exclusively from 'Carmen' but has inspired the choreography in a most creative way. For example, from the very funny communal shower scene to the ‘Toreador Song’ to the tortured prison solo set to the ‘Flower Song’ from the opera.

Despite the feeling in the beginning that you were waiting for someone to burst in to song or to speak, the energy and acting ability of the dancers, the fluid movement of scenes and diversity of the dance styles meant you were whipped up in to the story.

Some people might find some of the scenes too graphically sexual but like any good story, they are there for a reason, showing you a side of small town America which would have felt untrue and sugary in their absence .

It is all too easy to be a contemporary dance snob* but I would urge anyone to put that aside, especially if you feel like going to the cinema. Matthew Bourne’s work has been described in the past as being like a “dancical”. With 'Car Man', I felt I was watching a great “dancilm” (say that again, I dare you! Ed!), or in keeping with the American style, a “doovie”!!

Runs until November 3rd.

*And for all of you out there look out for the hilarious take on Martha Graham!

Published Thu, 1 Nov, 2007 at 05:49 | Share on Facebook | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

Dance For Camera

Sunday, 7 October, 2007

firstrun.pngBelieve it or not the producers of Dance for Camera, First Run Features, sent this particular DVD in for review after they had read our coverage of 'Take 7', a DVD that we were less than polite about not two weeks previously. If nothing else, we salute their courage.

The disc features 6 short dance films from producers in Europe and North America: 'Reines d'un Jour' (Switzerland), 'Measure' (USA), 'Rest in Peace' (Netherlands/UK), 'A Village Trilogy' (Canada), 'Cornered' (Canada) and 'Contrecoup' (Switzerland).

With this DVD the producers have attempted to compile a series of dance films that feature actual choreography and to some degree they have succeeded with this.

Let's take 'Contrecoup' as an example. Although the theme is fairly abstract the film makers have at least made an effort to both effectively film and edit the movement sequences used throughout the production. In addition, they have actually bothered to use lighting and location design to add to the overall effect. The visual look you get is a very contemporary 'film noir' effect with a colour palette limited to browns and greens.

Although the photography sometimes strays into close up a little too often it is, for the most part, effective at capturing the mood and dynamics of the choreography. The editing has also been done with care so the sequences do not become disjointed and there is little evidence of the editor becoming frustrated and making cuts for no other reason than to justify a pay cheque.

Photography throughout is well handled and pulls off some neat visual tricks here and there. Somebody obviously sat down and thought this through. What is the film about? Personally I have no idea. The story is a little muddled, if there is one, but its got something to do with relationships. You can't have everything but it is by far the strongest effort on this DVD.

'Measure', created in the USA, is an example of what to do when you have limited resources and limited time (I'm presuming here). The film uses a long shot down a corridor and it's principal angle. Two dancers work their way through a rhythmic tap routine with a series of jump cuts added in for good measure. The movement is not outstanding but I suspect it's not supposed to be. It's understated and simple, but at least it's movement.

Overall this DVD is a cut above 'Take 7' from the previous review, because, as the producers promised, these films use choreography as a focal point. Apart from the strengths of 'Countercoup' however there is still all too little to get excited about with any of these creations.

There is little in the way of show stopping moments that make you want to partake of a repeat viewing. 'Rest In Peace' is a particularly poor effort and, ironically, has the BBC's name all over it.

What this particular DVD brings to the table is a sense of hope. A sense that maybe there is, however slim, a chance that dance film can move forward by utilising good photography, good editing, good ideas and some good choreography, not necessarily in that order. We still have a long way to go mind you.

The disc runs to 95 minutes with no special features. (The publicity for the disc mentions "Filmmaker profiles" but I couldn't find them).

Available through mail order only in NTSC and PAL formats for $25(US) plus shipping.

[ First Run Features ]

Published Sun, 7 Oct, 2007 at 06:57 | Share on Facebook | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

Take 7

Thursday, 20 September, 2007

Take 7 It's always with some trepidation that you put a dance film DVD into the machine and wait for it to start. You are always hoping, even praying, that despite your past experiences with dance on camera, this time will be different. This time it's going to be better.

'Take 7' is a compilation of seven short films from the last 13-14 years from a number of dance makers. They include Liz Aggis, Rosemary Lee, Alison Murray, Anthony Atanasio and others. The DVD itself is produced by South East Dance, one of the UK's National Dance Agencies.

The measure of a good film, in my opinion of course, is your desire to want to watch it again. You may not enjoy the film as a whole but in every film you have ever enjoyed there is a section of dialogue, a particular scene, piece of photography, music or, in the case of a dance film, choreography that makes you want to go back and watch again.

Sadly there appears to have been a meeting held some time ago wherein it was decided that "dance films" are not allowed to feature any dancing. If they do have any dancing of any description then that movement has to be carried out by people who are completely unfit for the purpose of executing choreography and the choreography itself has to be starved of energy, wit and original thinking.

One of the films, 'Birds' by David Hinton, doesn't even feature human beings. In his taped introduction to the film Mr Hinton asks if 'Birds' is a dance film at all? The succinct answer is, no it isn't Mr Hinton.

'Birds' is no more a dance film than 'Finding Nemo' is a sports movie or 'Pride and Prejudice' is a science fiction flick!

It is hard to believe that in 2007 the exact nature of what a dance film is is still viewed as a semantic argument. A dance film is a film that features dance executed by human beings with the requisite skills to hold the viewers attention. 'Birds', using stock footage from the BBC, is the worlds most boring editing job.

'Dust' directed by Anthony Atanasio and choreographed by Miriam King is the only film of the bunch to display any photographic flair. Presented in a harsh blue tone throughout with a smattering of jump cutting combined with imaginative sound design we at least have a film with a bit of craft. As with all the other shorts on this DVD though it falls flat in thematic terms because the viewer has no chance of determining just what the hell is going on.

Margaret Williams, the director of "Outside In" speaks of her excitement with regard to using cameras to capture movement. Yet throughout her film we see no evidence of this. We see no evidence of creative flair in terms of photography, composition, lens selection or depth of field. There is simply nothing to suggest a love of film or photography. If you love something you don't treat it with such a staggering lack of respect.

So help me, if just one more dance film maker talks about "choreographing" the camera there will be trouble on an unimaginable scale.

With each of these films a common suspect is to be found. That suspect is Anne Beresford and her production company MJW Productions. You may remember them from a review of the show 4Dance we did about 18 months ago.

South East Dance markets this DVD by describing these films as "the shorts that have shaped the development of dance for film and video in the last decade."

I would counter that by stating Ms Beresford, MJW and these productions have made dance film into nothing more than an abstract irritation. An art form that is filled with people with a staggering amount creativity and talent is being mocked from on high by a crowd of blinkered dilettantes who cannot see further than the end of their own cameras.

As if to add insult to injury this 60 minute DVD will set you back £25 plus £5 for shipping. There are no extras at all. An entire season of 'Lost', with a huge number of additional features, running for over 20 hours can be had from HMV for about £35 and that show, in its entirety, costs more than $40million to create. From where does the arrogance come to ask for £30 for 'Take 7'.

It is as painful to write this type of review as it is to watch this particular DVD. You want dance film to be exciting. You want nothing more than to put this disc into the machine and for it to captivate you from the outset. It fails comprehensively to do so and the entire profession is worse off because of it.

[ South East Dance ]

Published Thu, 20 Sep, 2007 at 05:29 | Share on Facebook | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

Yellow Moon (The Ballad of Leila and Lee)

Wednesday, 29 August, 2007

yellowmoon.png4 actors, 4 chairs and 20 scenes only indicated by the performers verbal cues. In the Traverse theatre where the audience is on 4 sides, there really is nowhere to hide. Especially for the actors or indeed the onlookers as you are often narrated to, catching them directly in the eye.

Yellow Moon, performed by Glasgow's TAG Theatre Company and written by David Gregg, tells the tale of Lee who runs away after accidentally stabbing his step-dad. He heads to the highlands to find his real father whom he holds in high regard, persuading a rather impressionable Leila to come with him.

With choreography sleeker than many dance shows and an emotive soundtrack reflecting and guiding the action, this wasn’t just a play but a road-trip. Such was the way the scenes flowed and the actor’s passion for the script that whipped you up into the story, you didn’t just observe but took the journey with them.

My only niggle? The music could have been a bit louder; powerful surround sound can make a trip!

'Yellow Moon' will continue its run at the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow after the Festival Fringe.

Published Wed, 29 Aug, 2007 at 11:35 | Share on Facebook | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

Scottish Dance Theatre

Sunday, 26 August, 2007

sdt2.pngAfter we all got a bit fed up of mixed media and the digital invasion, we have seen a recent surge of back to basics contemporary dance. Going back to their roots, a lot of companies are getting technical (some might say balletic) with their movement again.

However Scottish Dance Theatre staying true to their name, with not just dance, but theatre. Always bold, particularly under the direction of Janet Smith, and never afraid to tackle serious issues

And you can't get much more serious than war, the subject of their latest offering at the Edinburgh Fringe, 'Sorry for the Missiles', choreographed by Vanessa Haska.

Although triggered by the troubles in Gaza, she drew on her own childhood experiences as a Greek Cypriot.

The lively mix of Eastern European music creates a strong community feel as the whole company dance traditionally and formulaically through he flag-adorned streets. However the happy times are short-lived as the sounds of planes invade the scene. From then on the choreography is emotionally charged - writhing bodies, torn and disjointed.

I found it quite difficult to watch as it demonstrated vividly how individuals and communities are destroyed by war, trying their best to carry on (dancing!).

I was reminded once again that theatre and indeed dance is not just there to entertain but to educate and help us to understand the lives of others.

Published Sun, 26 Aug, 2007 at 08:04 | Share on Facebook | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

Frankie Boyle

Sunday, 19 August, 2007

boyle.jpgFrankly I’m a bit cranky with Frankie! Seeking some light relief from the more serious task of watching dance performance, I thought I would seek out some comedy.

I had been impressed by Frankie Boyle's quick wit and hilarious social and political commentary on television shows such as 'Mock the Week' and in particular, his great ability to make fun of Scottish people (not too hard considering we provide the fodder quite freely!)

He is from Paisley so we can’t call him racist but when you poke fun at your own culture it allows you to to mock others, so race, sex, age etc are easy targets for Frankie.

The recent terrorist attempt on Glasgow airport, the English floods, disabilities and the bloke in the front row with an effeminate voice are all targets of his mocking jibes. Boyle even likes to take the mickey out of political correctness itself. Some might find his jokes a bit too close to the bone (lots of “ooohs” from the audience). I have to admit I’m a bit less easily shocked and sometimes ask myself “should I really be laughing at this?”

However, what did shock me is how many jokes I'd heard before on the many recent appearances he’s made on panel shows. Ok, they were spontaneous and clever then and he must have thought he’d like to expand them in his own show.

Some might say it's my fault for watching too much telly but I didn’t appreciate paying ten quid for something I could have watched for free “On Demand!”

Come on Frankie! At least realise that the reason your show was sold out was because you are on TV now so most people have heard your repartee. Surely the Edinburgh Fringe is more about new ideas and testing new material.

Published Sun, 19 Aug, 2007 at 09:25 | Share on Facebook | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

Moving in Circles

Sunday, 12 August, 2007

hiphopscotch.pngAugust in Edinburgh means it's Festival time, so unless you plan on living in a hole for the next month, you may as well embrace it! (As you wont be able to walk down the street without being accosted by a performer promoting “the best show in the world, ever!”)

The main festival offers the usual high end (well funded and promoted) programme of ballet and contemporary dance. Or you could take your pick of one of around 100 Fringe shows on offer. But if you don’t fancy gambling a tenner on a show you know little about, you can always bet you can see something challenging and exciting at Dance Base (they’ve done the vetting for you!)

As well as the many visiting companies, it is great to see so much home-grown talent on the programme this year.

An example of which is Hip Hop Scotch by Moving in Circles.

I have to say the sight of the lone piper and the footage of highlander battles at the beginning of the piece worried me slightly. References to Scottish culture have the danger of descending into the world of tartan and shortbread.

However as the show unfolded, with the backdrop and text like a silent movie, we see a clever and insightful look at the similarities between modern B-Boy dance and ancient battle. Writhing bodies on the floor as if dying in their last breath builds up to some breathtaking break dancing with a clever and comic fusion of Scottish celidh dance and hip hop style.

The bag pipes competing with the DJ and the beat boxer leading to a musical collaboration that really works (especially due to the very talented Scottish Asian piper). Great to see the Scottish references move from pride and over sentimentality to laughing at ourselves, the boys clearly having fun.

I just wish the audience did a bit more. Break dancing, in particular, is a show of audience participation but the trouble with the reserved Edinburgh audience is knowing when they’re enjoying themselves!

The show is aimed at a younger audience but I know my 91 year old Scottish gran would love it too!

The Dance Base programme also contains several pieces where choreographers are performing their own work, which always adds a powerful edge. From the strange and almost uncomfortable to watch, to the downright hilarious, they might raise that age-old question "what is dance?" Why do people feel the need to stretch the boundaries of performance?

But I love it when I watch something such as Vermiculus performed by Eeva Muilu and I say to myself, “thank goodness they do – this is great!”

Published Sun, 12 Aug, 2007 at 08:21 | Share on Facebook | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

Australian Dance Theatre 'Held'

Monday, 2 April, 2007

held.pngThe first week in spring and the Edinburgh theatre world has been awakened from its winter season by a positively blooming programme of dance.

Last week saw visits from Scottish Dance Theatre, Australian Dance Theatre and Henri Oguike Dance Company.

From the traditional contemporary to the experimental, it could not have been more diverse. I am always assured that with SDT, not only will I see some beautiful dancing, but my brain will be stretched. However, I was eager to see something new.

With the arrival of Australian Dance Theatre, I expected to be wowed by their athleticism and titillated by their fearless and sexy show (if the previews were anything to go by).

'Held' is a collaboration with photographer Lois Greenfield. Capturing moments of the dance using a digital camera and projecting them instantly on to the stage is an exciting concept. The camera can stop time; record a moment, a breathtaking pose that your eye could not possibly register in the transitions of movement.

The unfortunate drawback of this is your eye is drawn to watching the captured images on the giant screens and away from the dancers. But hang on, the pumping music, the athletic dancers, the giant leaps, the testosterone fuelled combat-style interactions, the costumes, not to mention the hair, fight for my attention. So I try to concentrate on that. However I can’t help but think that the dancers are the subjects and not the objects of this piece.

Asked whether they felt the choreography was compromised for photography, the company disagreed. They insisted the dance came first but the repetitive jumps, movement lost in strobe lighting and the designer costumes all contributed to the feeling I was observing a shoot for Vogue magazine.

In a way, I could have enjoyed an insight in to a photographer at work, but I came to watch dance. The dancers themselves are highly skilled and I felt that they deserved more.

One dance company where I felt the dancers got my full attention, despite also mixing media, was Henri Oguike. His collaboration with musician Iain Ballamy demonstrated beautifully how sound can stimulate the performance. The music integrates seamlessly throughout all of his work, directly influences movement and brings out a playful sense of humour.

His dancers are a joy to watch and were given choreography that demonstrated that our bodies are creative instruments too.

Published Mon, 2 Apr, 2007 at 10:54 | Share on Facebook | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

Ultima Vez 'Spiegel'

Sunday, 18 March, 2007

spiegel.pngUltima Vez are currently one of the longest running contemporary dance companies in the world with over 20 years under their collective belt. That experience shows as they present their latest work to the UK and deliver the classy, aggressive dance we have come to expect.

'Spiegel' is Wim Vandekeybus's 'retrospective' on those twenty years and features sections from some of his best known creations all seamlessly blended together into a one hour and thirty minute flashback of high energy physical theatre and brick throwing.

If 'Spiegel' has a narrative structure then it escaped me but I didn't really care because this is a work where you can just sit back and enjoy both the madness and the tenderness of the nine dancers as they wind their way through one of the most impressive physical theatre resume's in dance.

As you watch the movement sequences unfold you can't help but recognise a lot of the stylised jumps, catches, spins and floor work that have become a signature part of many of today's companies movement repertoire. Only if you know the recent history of dance well enough will you know that Ultima Vez are responsible for providing almost all of that particular type of stylised physical theatre and they are one of the best proponents of it.

The partnering in particular is where the company truly shines. Lifts, catches and interchanges are executed with tremendous energy and precision with little concern for making pretty shapes. Movement for this company is about functional economy because the ninety minute run time is done almost flat out so who has the time or the inclination to turn out the leg and point that foot.

Watching Ultima Vez is an exciting experience because you can see everything at work, the dancers, the choreography and the music, all of it unfettered by overbearing pretension.

One of the company's most famous sequences is here to enjoy for all of those either too young or unfortunate enough to have missed it in the past. I am of course talking about, what Article19 have taken to calling, the brick lobbing sequence.

Even after 20 years and several viewings it still stuns me. The precision and timing required to throw the house brick sized lumps of stone around on a stage with nine dancers on it and not kill someone. The whole section lasts about ten minutes and this alone is worth the price of entry.

'Spiegel' is a solid reworking of the best of several works from one of the world's best dance companies. As a narrative piece it makes no sense at all but that is, for me, irrelevant. Purchase your ticket and enjoy some of the best dancers in the business doing physical theatre the way it was meant to be done, they did invent it after all.

Published Sun, 18 Mar, 2007 at 11:33 | Share on Facebook | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble It!

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