Category Archives: Dance

Geisha’s Miracle

Sorry for the delay; much going on, and moving around.

Pawn’s final performance at ITS Festival 2016 was Geisha’s Miracle, a dance by Jija Sohn. Sohn is the winner of 2015’s Moving Forward Trajectory fellowship program, which gives her, “the opportunity to develop her work and network with the help of five Dutch production houses. The project is a coproduction with Dansgroep Amsterdam and a collaboration with DansBrabant, Dansateliers, Generale Oost, Random Collision and ITs Festival.”

jija sohn

The venue was a rather remarkable space, Dansmakers, “As generator of talent, Dansmakers stands for research, production and presentation; a production house with stage where makers can search, fail and shine.” It is a lovely space with very nice seating, flexible performance areas, extensive lighting grid and good sound system.

The three dancers started in a clutch in a back corner of the stage and slowly, very slowly, arrayed themselves across the whole space. This slow movement almost brings pain into the bodies of the audience, as we watch their tensed muscles fight against each other to not move too quickly. Eventually the dance resolves into more recognizable modern movements, and a variety of props, effects, instruments and focus shifts are brought to bear to give us at least the outline of a story.

In her treatise, Sohn, “explores how to communicate emotional or formless material with dance and movement to bridge the gap between different cultures.” While I cannot be sure how successful this endeavour was, I can attest the the effective beauty of the piece, and its visceral involvement of us, the audience. All in all, a lovely night at Dansmakers.

The evening was completed with the announcement of four nominees for the 2016 Moving Forward Trajectory. These four will receive mentorship and assistance as they work towards a November mini-presentation, after which one will be selected for the full year’s program.

An Odyssey

The youth of Europe spoke today with a United voice. A voice at times strident, but more often hopeful. They scolded and coddled, preached and implored. They came from across the continent to speak together but separately. They appealed to our better angels, after reminding us we still have them. Mostly, however, they made clear that it is they who are our inheritors, and they shan’t be denied.

The European Parliament, you might ask; The British? Nee, I speak of An Odyssey, an audacious undertaking by Platform European Theatre Academies, PLETA. This group, along with ITS Festival, Europe by People, and others, brought together eight leading European Theatre schools for this production. Each academy produced a piece for an island from Homer’s tale of venture, nostalgia and return.

Our Odyssey began near a small dog park, next to a ferry launch, about a mile from Centraal Station, Het Stenen Hoofd. At the appointed hour a small squadron of brown-shirted youth arrive and start to bark orders at the audience. These students of Theatre Academy Helsinki TEAK put us on a forced march to Calypso, where we are ridiculed and cajoled, made to march in strict lines, then taken into small groups. Pawn finds himself with a group of 8, sitting around a refugee campfire, where our brown-shirt guide tells us that she will soon put us on a boat out of here, but first we are to partake of a brief ceremony; she is to make for us a pot of coffee, which we will share together, before never seeing each other again. As she prepares the pot of coffee over a propane stove, she sings us a Finnish song, and then explains the lyrics in English. They are of separation and finality.

This isn’t just any Odyssey, you see, This journey is informed by Europe’s current refugee crises. Here is a brief excerpt from the programme:

This project represents a unique connection between future actors, mixing cultures, languages and artistic expression into one vision; to create a performance that mirrors the humanitarian challenges we face today. Never before has the need for tolerance, openness, and respect felt more urgent than now. I believe that a better world is possible, and that anyone can contribute, regardless of religion, beliefs, colour of skin or sexual orientation.

-Andreas Koschinski Kvisgaard (Student Westerdal, Norway)

From our imaginary Calypso, we are led to a ferry, which takes us through Amsterdam harbour and deposits us on the banks by the Tolhuistuin cultural compound. This is where the rest of Homer’s islands will be. But first, along the way, we are provided wireless headphones (Sennheiser Outdoor Cinema, for the curious amongst you) through which we hear seabirds and music, voices and more. We are told a tale of Poseidon, how his bureaucratic duties as God of the sea are boring and wearying him, and how, finally, he lays down his trident and retires. This portion of the presentation is by Theaterakademie August Everding, Munich.

This overwhelmed yet bored Poseidon is based not on Homer, but Kafka. When we finish our journey, however, we are led into the Tolhuistuin compound where we are met by flashy, bikini-clad girls with selfie-sticks and few barriers. They in turn lead us to a boisterous man lounging is a small pool, where we are allowed to share in the Champagne. Suddenly a woman appears in the windows above us and launches into a speech about globalization and corporate responsibility. Inspired by the text of a speech given by Cor Herkstroter, former CEO of Royal Dutch Shell, the rhetoric here deplores government for demanding too much from corporations, and encourages it to get out of the way and let corporations do what’s best; “scrutinizes the Janus-faced Europe of today, whose values of openness and solidarity are being ground down by the very bureaucratic manchinery designed to protect it.” as the programme tells us.

Near the conclusion of the speech, some White Power nationalists filter through the crowd and commence to shout and chant. They sweep through the crowd and over to a small clearing, where they roust a refugee from a tent, and proceed to rough him up, under the gaze of a black-trenchcoat wearing religious figure. The refugee is finally thrown into a shallow grave, and that’s the end of the Cyclops, brought to us by Akademie Teatralna, Warsaw.

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Latvian Academy, Riga, bring us Phaiacians. Rather than the purely theatrical techniques used by the others we have seen heretofore, this group share with us some cold, hard facts. Latvia is a country of 1.95 million people, and have accepted a mere 80 refugees. Even if they take their full allotment over the next decade, that is only 700, fewer than half of which are expected to wish to stay. The citizenry may be up in arms, but the country faces severe depopulation, having lost over 10% of the population in the years since the Iron Curtain fell.

The troupe scheme how to entice the refugees, represented by one young man, to stay. They compose little songs and practice being friendly. The song starts to take form, “Welcome to my country, here you don’t belong. Welcome to my country, here you can go wrong…” They eventually get it right, but the whole effect is to poke fun at the efforts by well meaning progressive forces to coax a reluctant populace to see the benefits of immigration.

Ask many people if they’re familiar with Homer’s Odyssey and they may say yes, but they probably only know the story of the Sirens. Odysseus has his men lash him to the mast of the ship, and then bung their ears with wadding, so they may safely traverse the shoals around the island of these temptress singing maidens. Odysseus becomes the only man to hear the Sirens’ song and survive to tell the tale. Thomas Bernhard Akademie, Salzburg, presents this island to us, with a mixture of dance, spoken word, song and music. It is keening and rich, overlaid with language in Arabic, Turkish, German, and English:

The history of the occident is also the history of tying down the body and the musicality of its languages and hence a history of bodies that get in panic when they are confronted with the otherness of the voice or the voice of the other.

This scene attempts a rhythmic-repetitive bodily and musicalized retelling of the triumph over the jeopardy of the voice…

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We watch all of this from a room fronting a canal, the performers on a barge, the musicians in the room with us, video screens providing various translation, full and partial.

Next up we are dragged by a frantic, jubilant woman, to a new space, her island. She is Circe. Erasmus Hogeschool/RITCS Brussels bring us a raucous and bawdy rendition of this island of lions, wolves and pigs. In this version we are serenaded by In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida and what amounts to a lurid and yet lyrical dance, which in turn tells us the story of debauchery offered and escaped. This was a truly stunning and unnerving interlude, and quite moving. Doesn’t seem to say much about modern Europe, or refugees, but that’s fine with me. We deserve a break!

Toneelacademie, Maastricht, next bring us Underworld. For this we are led to the mezzanine of a small studio theatre space, where we are looking down into a pit. This stunning piece uses a phalanx of video projectors, painting the floor and walls of this sunken chamber. Odysseus enters the underworld, represented here as a placid pool of water dotted with stepping stones, a small geometric island in the centre. When Odysseus steps onto a stone, the ripples he releases show us the lost souls trapped beneath the surface, tangled webs of bodies trapped in eternal struggle for rest. This is by turns disturbing and alluring.

I cannot even begin to describe just what a gift this revelatory experience was. It is immersive and voyeuristic, knowable and mysterious, beautiful and ugly, all at once. When Odysseus pulls Theresius from the lower depths, and they step out onto the water, the surfaces of this CGI disappear, and we are left only with the underlying mesh scaffolding upon which all of this imagery has been constructed. The effect untethers us, leaves us adrift without reference or anchor. It was profound.

The actors and the CGI are perfect together, bound to each other by 3D-scanner coordination, to great effect. I suspect we’ll see more of this in live performance, for it brings the promise of video augmented live performance to a level Pawn has certainly never seen before.

Return. No Odyssey is complete without return, right? That, after all, is what separates Odyssey from misadventure. Here we find return in a quiet glen, where Odysseus is first confronted by suspicious descendants of those left behind so many years ago. But he is eventually recognized, first by his loyal dog, and then by the rest, as who he is. Westerdal, Oslo, present this with masterful sound design and finely choreographed movement. It is triumphant!

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An undertaking of this scope and scale would be laudable in the best of times, but what makes this piece so extraordinarily suited to this time, to this moment, is the events of recent days. Not a week ago, even, England and Wales have dealt what could be a lethal blow to the European project. Last night, parties unknown deployed automatic weapons and suicide bombers in the Istanbul airport, killing 41 and injuring over 200. Funerals have already started and we don’t even have final casualty counts.

It is against this backdrop that these students have spoken, have sought a voice which says No! They want Europe, they love Europe. They embrace this ideal of shared cultural norms with separate histories and traditions.

One cannot experience this and not find hope for our future, regardless of the orange-haired monsters in our midst.

Three One Acts – ITS Amsterdam 2016

Almost forgot to write this one up.  Oops!

playmaids2

While the title “Theatre Triple Date #2” doesn’t convey too much information, it was an interesting night of theatre.  First up was Play Maids by ArtEZ Music Theatre and Acting, Arnhem, directed by Mart van Berckel and performed by Margreet Blanken, Anne Freriks and Robin Kuiper.  The latter two play a pair of maids, Claire and Solange, loosely based on Jean Genet’s The Maids, by way of Grey Gardens. Here’s an excerpt from the Wikipedia article on The Maids:

Solange and Claire are two housemaids who construct elaborate sadomasochistic rituals when their mistress (Madame) is away. The focus of their role-playing is the murder of Madame and they take turns portraying both sides of the power divide. Their deliberate pace and devotion to detail guarantees that they always fail to actualize their fantasies by ceremoniously “killing” Madame at the ritual’s dénouement.

In Play Maids, these games appear at first to be more playful than anything, but we shall see.  Performed in the round (mostly) the set consisted of a sort of wire-frame wardrobe from which hung garments and from which sprouted work surfaces and other accoutrement necessary to the maids’ work.  The setting and props were fresh and inspired; the performances frenetic, farcical and fun.  Blanken as the matron was marvelous, and her seeming obliviousness lent much to the production.

playmaids1

Perhaps a bit longer than was needed, the entire enterprise was well done and a joy to watch, perhaps more so because of the physical similarity of the two young actresses.  I could see this doing well in a Fringe (and, indeed, they will be at Fringe Amsterdam this September).  Interestingly, fashion label Maison the Faux is listed as a collaborator, for Scenography.

Next up was De Spectacular Schandelijke van Een Jong Meisje en het Tragische Einde Dat Daarop Volgde, again from ArtEZ Music Theatre and Acting, Arnhem.  Herein a single performer, Laurien van Rijswijk, performs an augmented monologue.  I can’t tell you too much about it, as it was all in Dutch, which I don’t speak.  I think the gist of the piece was that this young woman is coming into her own as her mother is dying of cancer, but that’s just a wild guess.  It did have moving scenes, which I could judge by the waterworks in the audience.

Lastly was The Sound of Circles, Codarts Circus, Rotterdam.  Ralph Ollinger and Marko Hristoskov conceived and present this piece of juggling accompanied by string bass.  It was lovely and well executed.  Seemed an odd fit after the earlier entertainments, but it did leave one with a clear head.

Stephan Koplowitz: Water Sight, Milwaukee/A Delectable Evening of Imperfection

lines, tides, shores...

lines, tides, shores…

Yet another reason to love Milwaukee — UW-M Peck School of the Arts Summer Dances program.  This year brings us Stephan Koplowitz and Water Sight, Milwaukee.  This suite of site-specific dances comprise two programs, the three movement lines, tides, shores… (above) set in the Cudahy Gardens of the Milwaukee Art Museum, and The Current Past (below) set at the base of the North Point Water Tower on Milwaukee’s East Side.

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Wednesday Catchup

Wow, falling behind here. Let’s catch up then, shall we?

Wednesday we enjoyed a matinée of The Other Place at Manhattan Theater Club. This taut drama by Sharr White stars Laurie Metcalf (Rosanne) as a powerful drug company executive and former scientist who is relating to us a story from a business trip a while back. Utilizing a combination of flash backs and flash forwards, the script builds a complicated framework within which the complete story eventually is fit.

We soon learn, however, that we cannot be sure just how much of what this woman tells us we can believe. She is cagey about her name, for example, when talking with a doctor in one of the many threads of the tale. She accuses her husband of adultery, but is he really guilty? She claims he is divorcing her, but he tells us otherwise. She has long, fraught, phone calls with an estranged daughter, but does she really?

It would be giving away too much to tell more about the basis of these uncertainties, but suffice to say that the play, which opened to fairly good notices the next night, paints a daunting and frightening picture of what can happen to our inner, and outer, worlds when our minds get away from us.

Cudos to the design staff. The set, by Eugene Lee & Edward Pierce, is an elaborate semi-cylinder of window frames, with embedded lighting elements, which matches the elaborate framework of the story telling to a tee. Lighting by Justin Townsend compliments the set nicely, and serves to establish the many different settings required by the script, all within the single set. But it is the costuming by David Zinn which really does the most with the least to move the story along. Within Zinn’s single costume, Ms Metcalf transforms from a high level business woman, with impeccable style, to a forlorn mother, lost in this world and losing everything. By the simple removal of a jacket here, stockings there, or the addition of a shapeless sweater, we see many different sides to this one, complex, woman.

Daniel Stern as the lonely and left behind husband, who must struggle against his wife’s constant anger and accusations, turns in a mostly muted, but moving and frustrated performance. When he erupts in sobs 2/3rds of the way in, we are moved to do the same. Zoe Perry (Ms Metcalf’s real life daughter) ably dispatches the three roles she is tasked with.

A heavy matinée, to say the least!

That evening took us to the Joyce for some dance, part of the Focus Dance 2013 program. We saw a program with Camille A. Brown & Dancers, and Brian Brooks Moving Company. Ms. Brown’s group performed Been There, Done That, City Of Rain and The Real Cool. The latter, a sole piece featuring Ms Brown, was a lovely piece, often using small front-mounted pin-spots to project large expressive shadows of her onto the rear cyclorama.

Mr. Brooks’ company used a very physical dance form to explore movement in some new ways, in I’m Going To Explode, Descent and, with Wendy Whelan, Fall Falls. I was especially moved by Descent, a dance in three movements. In the first, dancers dragged partners, literally, across the stage and maneuvered them about as if dolls, at times — all while lit from the sides by horizontal wedges of light.

The second movement presents us with a stage lit only from 6 feet up. The dancers enter the stage from left or right, putting lacy fabric aloft with the breeze from wood fans they wave upwards. It was like watching well choreographed jelly fish dancing! So lovely, so lyric, so fresh! Each dancer would cross from left to right, or right to left, their focus upward on their fabric, and the fabric would twirl and bob in the drafts.

The program closed with a duet by Mr. Brooks and Ms. Whelan, part of her series Restless Creature, which explored the interaction of bodies and the shifting of the planes of horizon and plateau, their bodies sometimes climbing the floor or walking on the air. Hard to explain, but lovely to behold.

London Journal – Day 20 – Please Reboot: Diversion Ends

Please Reboot

Mother’s Day falls on 2 March this year in the UK, so I celebrated by having a bag breakfast in Paddington Street Gardens with a copy of the Independent On Sunday (free DVD of Luis Buñel’s Viridiana today).

On my way from Paddington Street I stumbled across a really nice little market. London is dotted with farmer’s markets every weekend (and some weekdays) and this one in Marylebone had everything you could want. There were bee keepers selling honey and dairymen selling cheeses, butters and creams, livestock keepers selling pork, beef, lamb and poultry, every vegetable and salad green imaginable, the list goes on and on. I picked up a lovely smoked cheese, but otherwise controlled myself – I leave for Prague in a day and a half I cannot fill up the fridge before I do. I will find another market when I return.

I then had a leisurely stroll down to Leicester Square and got a 10th row seat for Insane In The Brain by the Bounce Street Dance Co. at the Peacock Theatre. Along the way I saw the sign above over Piccadilly. Note the mouse pointer lurking middle bottom. This sign needs a reboot.

Then I simply wandered about trying to decide what to do. What did John Lennon say, “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans…” Well, that was my day. I wandered from Leicester Square to Covent Garden where I watched one busker sing opera and another sing James Taylor (quite well). Then up to Hoborn and Bloomsbury and all around there. Back down to The Strand and Fleet Street, and finally back to the Lycium Tavern for a cognac before my matinee show.

Insane In The Brain is a retelling of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, as a street-dance ballet. Highly charged doesn’t begin to cover it. The music is Hip-Hop and loud, the dance is gravity defying and energetic.

The telling of the story is very well done. I haven’t seen the film in a long time and kept finding myself going “Oh yeah, I remember this part.” There was a cute, cheeky bit, during the illicit drinking scene, where they paid homage to Flash Dance and Fame. The send up was effective but well intended too. The audience ate it up. I enjoyed the show greatly.

Well, one does get hungry at these late matinees, so it was back to the neighbourhood and Sunday Roast at The Volunteer. Lamb today, not as good as The Green, not by a long shot, but very cheap and still good. Cauliflower in cheese sauce, I like that!

I’ll end with this street sign I found laying flat on the tarmac

Diversion Ends

London Journal – Day 10 – About A Fridge

Now that we’ve caught up to the present, I think I should comment that just because I have shown you a lot of pictures of famous places, don’t think that I have visited them all. I have spent most of my time just strolling neighbourhoods, exploring the city, going to pubs, café, restaurants, markets and shops. I really haven’t written about most of this. This is real life, the day to day routine which goes into living somewhere.

I have been asked directions by locals and tourists. I was welcomed to London by an Australian who, after hearing me explain to a local that I couldn’t help them because I was just visiting, said “And how long have you been here?” “Just today, I’ve got a month, though.” “Oy, you’ll need it. I’ve been here three and I still don’t know where I’m at.”

I have been helpful when I could, and honest when I couldn’t.

I have a few observations for you.

1) Young children sound more plaintive with English accents. Also French. This might go a long way to explaining why French and English children are spoilt so. It also might explain a lot about German and Slavic children’s lot.

2) As much as the English have a well earned reputation for politeness (see the “works” signs photos) they are brutal on each other in conversation. “Daft cow!” is not just rumour, you really hear that. I was listening to a few chums at a pub, and they were one-upping each other with bawdy, rude put downs. No “Your mamma” jokes though. These were all strictly personal attacks.

3) Stand on the right! Repeat after me, stand on the right. Oh, and keep left!

4) Here is a handy comparison table for you, so you can tell whether you’re in Milwaukee, New York or London:

Milwaukee New York London
Thin Visitor Native Native
Fat Native Visitor Visitor
Health care Private $ Private $ National
Public Transit Dying Thriving Thriving
Cash Dispenser Tyme Machine ATM Cash point
Parks Great Great Great!
Walk/Drive on Right Right Left
Stand on What? Right Right

It is 11 °C (52 °F) right now and I’m sitting in the courtyard of my building typing this since this is the only place with a real table and chair. I will include a photo of my regular typing situation sometime soon. Needless to say, however, after an hour or so of this my hands are getting cold. So, I am going to wrap with news of today and some last few photos.

Oh, and before I forget. Tango Por Dos last night was a treat. My seat was in Dress Circle (balcony) but was still very good. I like watching dance from above, it really can be nice. My seat mate was a lovely older woman from Ireland who comes to London every month or two for one or two nights and just sees all the cheap shows she can. This was the third or fourth time she has seen this troupe, they come here every year at this time.

After a breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon (the last of each, must stop at Tesco or Sainsbury’s) I found a little cafe, Café Téo, on Baker Street for a really cheap cappuccino. Must remember them. Then on to the Wallace Collection. Wonderful stuff, great building. Brilliant!

Then it was back to Mayfair, armed with the knowledge of just where Carlos Place is, and I found Hamilton’s Gallery just fine. Well worth it, too. I really liked Watson’s photos.

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Then it was back to Leicester Square and this time a seat for A Prayer For My Daughter at the Young Vic (as compared to the Old Vic) down at Waterloo. I took advantage of the public loo, and was then heading back towards Piccadilly to catch a train home, but I was button-holed by a young bloke with a clipboard in front of the Odeon. He asked me if I had a moment, and I figured why not. “Are you an American?” “Yes.” “May I ask, Clinton or Obama?” “Obama.” “Brilliant, I’m an Obama guy! Do you live here?” “No I’m just visiting.” “Oh, there you’ve broke my heart.” and that was that. I think he was selling eye glass insurance or something like that.

A I left him and put my sights on Piccadilly, I notice a couple of men standing next to a small fridge. In Leicester Square, a fridge. Could only mean one thing. “Is this the Irish fridge then?” I asked the nearest one while I got my camera out. There was a young guy with a hand truck, and another with a big camera. Then there was Tony Hawks and a friend, and his fridge.

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Now many of you may be wondering what I’m going on about, but others of you are smiling and chuckling. Tony Hawks, (the writer, not the skateboarder) is a writer for several comedy and other shows in England and has written “Round Ireland with a fridge” and “Playing the Moldovans at tennis.” Both are accounts of seeing out bets made under the influence. I won’t recount the books here, but you can find them at your library or bookshop.

I shook his hand, let him stage a photo-op for my benefit, and told him how much I have enjoyed his books. I heard him read “Moldovans” on Chapter A Day on BBC2 the last time I was here and went right out and bought it. He told me that they’re planning a film version of Round Ireland, which is why he and his fridge were on the Square with a camera crew in tow. I bade him well and strode off towards Piccadilly. “Ay, aint that the bloke with the fridge?” asked a guy passing by. “Yes, that’s Tony Hawks.” I replied. “That’s brilliant, that is.” he beamed.

Back home again. I stopped at Café Téo for some cheap soup and such for lunch.

I had to come in off the patio due to rain. My hands are finally warming up. Thank goodness the notebook kicks off so much heat!

Ta!