Saturday, 18 October 2008

*** 'drawing breath recycled' - jean fraser, sue ridge, rosa ainley, annie whitehead

Drawing Breath Recycled
... maps and journeys .......
an exhibition about breathing with:
Jean Fraser

Rosa Ainley

Sue Ridge
Herne Bay Junior School
Annie Whitehead

Betteshanger Brass Band

@ Horsebridge Galleries, Whitstabe
Curated by Jean Fraser

An arts and health project about breath and breathing, the Drawing Breath project is based around a cycle ride during the summer of 2007 searching for oxygen on the Kent and East Sussex coast, and the conversations and conditions encountered on the way - a landscape adventure about survival and what remains possible as we grow older.

Featuring a life-size driftwood bicyle sculpture, a new brass band composition and new photographic work and maps of the journey, plus a sound piece about breath and vocalisation. A wall of air will be constructed by the audience during the exhibition.

Special thanks to the individuals and groups who contributed to the journey, including Canterbury & District Breathe Easy support group and the Eastern & Coastal Kent Respiratory team.

Artists and participants include: Rosa Ainley – multi-media practitioner Betteshanger Brass Band Jean Fraser – photographic artist Herne Bay Junior School pupils Sue Ridge – multi-media artist Annie Whitehead – jazz trombonist and composer Artists and participants include: Rosa Ainley – multi-media practitioner Betteshanger Brass Band Jean Fraser – photographic artist Herne Bay Junior School pupils Sue Ridge – multi-media artist Annie Whitehead – jazz trombonist and composer.

the experience of this show is all about listening and noticing - the overall effect is somehow still and resonantly present: jean fraser's potraits are all moments of people captured with an easy joyful glowing presence; sue ridge's maps make you stop and enjoy minute journey details and repetition, and her x-rays of jean’s lungs overlaid with the journey map outline and together with rosa ainley's sound piece – that has you empathetically holding your breath and aaahing into the air around you – suggests a simultaneous fragility alongside substantial strength and resilience; jean and her daughter’s video to play with annie whitehead’s music makes the movement of air mesmerising, and the driftwood bicycle made with year 5 at herne bay junior school is just magic.
there is nothing competitive or hard in this show. it does not boast endurance or mileage or impressive technology. neither does it pretend to find anything that isn’t already there waiting to be found and enjoyed and savoured, so that of brandishing it instead invites you to stop and look and look some more and listen and remember and smile and wonder a few ‘what if’s...’ and breathe a little slower, a little deeper.

life enhancing.

'aphasiadisiac' - ted stoffer, les ballets C de la B

les ballets C de la B

Les Ballets C. de la B. return to Sadler’s Wells with Aphasiadisiac – the final instalment in a trilogy of work by guest choreographer Ted Stoffer. Based in Ghent, Belgium, Les Ballets C. de la B. is a collective of choreographers renowned for presenting powerful, theatrical performances of startling, anarchic beauty.

American-born Ted Stoffer, a former Rambert dancer and founder of Aphasia Dance Company, derived the title Aphasiadisiac from ‘aphasia’ (the inability to express or understand thought in spoken or written words) and ‘aphrodisiac’ (arousing the mood of sexual excitement). Focusing on issues of communication and human relationships and featuring a cast of five performers who each represent a member of his own family, Aphasiadisiac sees Ted Stoffer exploring the private languages and politics of love.

"Stoffer is a brave performer who bares both his body and his soul… a deeply
personal experience that reconnects you with your own humanity" THE STAGE

Set to a soundtrack of pop, classical and traditional Czech music, plus live drumming, and set within a full-size onstage brick house (complete with furnishings), this promises to be a truly remarkable experience from one of Flander’s most important contemporary dance companies Les Ballets C. de la B.

A Sadler's Wells co-production

Lilian Baylis Studio at Sadlers Wells

Four people on stage building hollow four-sided towers with wooden bricks - some with words on them and of course I try and put these into meaningful clusters until I remember we are in the strange messed up dimension of aphasia and let the attempt go.
A fifth performer Pietrejan Vervondel arrives in business shirt and tie - there are two towers now each encasing a performer who have to climb their structure to get head & hands above it to catch the new bricks they are being thrown by ‘the businessman’ - the feels wonderfully dangerous and the audience are vocally excited as each new brick is thrown high and mostly caught with varying degrees of threat to the catcher and their tower remaining upright. How special and rare to have this real and live danger in a theatre.
We then see a hand from each performer reach out and across - but not connect - from their tower - and then she finds she can pass bricks from her tower to him to add to his.
Then we get a glorious aphasiac real estate presentation jumbled to be right at the edge of coherency - and how satisfying to be able to pull sense from this delightfully and wittily scrambled volley of words.

He breaks through the back wall.

He climbs the wall to a suspended drum kit, harnesses himself into the seat which he then releases forward - another moment of thrilling peril - and we get raucous surging music with accordion playing girl (Kristyna Lhotakova) in stocking feet and man and woman lying prone and stretched over brick stacks playing trumpet and horn. This makes the background sound for Stoffer's sinewy dislocated head lead movement that seems the physical mirror of the scrambled words - somehow finding a sense and coherency from inverted and inhumanised movements
We also get a number of contact improvisation duets that are fluidly satisfying to watch. And we get achingly intimate and recognisable words with movements from Mieke de Groot who we later see in a very funny duet mime with Yvan Auzely After they have been stripped of their instruments and left alone together by the double-banging drummers Vervondel & Lhotakova.
She then gives us the clearest monologue telling us how much she loves 'him' while he undulates, unfolds and curls under and through the chair and table, before the remaining tower is noisily toppled and cleared and the two of them show us their relationship via a set of tight and variously competing / cooperating dances.
The final sequence is a fast flowing sexy contact duet with Stoffer and Lhotakova joined throughout at the eye & cheek.
This show is packed with ideas and imagery and associations and virtuoso displays interspersed with sudden clear moments of absolute truth and recognition. It is far too clever to leave me more than momentarily absorbed inside it, but the richness of ideas - intellectual and performative - more than justifies this.

Friday, 17 October 2008

*** the two gentlemen of verona (nos do morro)

The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Nós do Morro

The Pit

The Barbican brings the Brazilian theatre company Nós do Morro to London for the first time with its production of Shakespeare’s comedy The Two Gentlemen of Verona directed by Gutti Fraga. The production was originally commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company as part of the Complete Works festival in 2006 where it received a one-off performance following collaboration with Cicely Berry and now comes to the capital for 11 performances. Switching effortlessly from comic to serious, the energetic young company infuse the text with song, movement and capoeira in a beautifully uncomplicated production. Location and mood are indicated through the use of the actors’ bodies and simple props take on a life of their own. The Two Gentlemen of Verona is performed in Portuguese with English surtitles. It is presented in association with People’s Palace Projects.

Nós do Morro (Portuguese for ‘us from the hillside’) was founded in 1986 by Fraga and is based in Vidigal, one of the toughest favelas in Rio de Janeiro. It provides young people from this disadvantaged community an opportunity to experience culture, art and citizenship through the theatre and visual arts. The company has achieved significant public recognition, won several awards and now runs a theatre and cultural centre. It aims to provide training in technical skills and creative work for theatre and cinema and many of its actors have appeared in TV series, soap operas and films including the 2002 award-winning City Of God.
Coinciding with the Barbican run of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Nós do Morro and Theatre Centre present an adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest entitled Knock Against My Heart written by Oladipo Agboluaje and directed by Michael Judge. Knock Against My Heart tours the UK from 18 September – 20 November including a run at the Unicorn Theatre from 7 – 18 October.

What a wonderful joyous funny warm experience was this!

The lights come up in one corner from a blackout to show a tightly clustered group of young performers singing - and instantly we know we are in the company of troubadour players about to make a show for us with just themselves, a few instruments and some motley scraps of cloth they will use for costumes and the many letters that feature through Shakespeare's story. This is his first play and - as with Chekhov's Ivanov - it's great to be able to see so many of the characters and ideas he will recreate again in his later plays: Julia who dresses as man - brilliantly achieved and utterly convincing as a disguise with a stretch of cloth over one eye so attention is grabbed by the disability rather than a sense of recognition - and heads off from Verona to Milan to teach her man how to love (As You Like It); there are balcony scenes (Romeo & Juliet), Julia lists her suitors for her maid to strip of their vanities with gleeful cruelty (The Merchant of Venice), and her initial dismissal of Proteus reminds of Kate and Beatrice; there's a there is even a Friar Laurence.

It is somehow an easy step to accept these young performers as the young lovers – they convey a freshness and vitality that exactly suits Shakespeare’s characters. And something i have never before seen so effectively achieved is the way all the performers step instantly in and away from their characters, so that even those playing leads manage to completely lose every hint of their characters to meld seamlessly into the ensemble. So I found I was even searching for actors who seemed to have disappeared in the chorus scenes, and conversely people I had barely noticed before would suddenly emerge as apparently unmissable large and dynamic presences when they stepped into an individual role.

The staging uses a variety of disciplined simplicity: performers bond together to make human architecture and furniture - seats, walls, doors, headless busts, a balcony, and a dangerous forest is conjured with lighting, a smoke machine and another length of cloth. We get a mimed slow motion duel or contest in the early scenes while Valentine & Proteus are all devoted and true friendship forever more that physically lays out everything the story of these two young Veronese gentlemen will unfold. And we get live music - instrumental and singing - to both move the story on, take us too new places (memorably from Verona to Milan), and to underscore or change the mood.

From start to finish this show vibrates with spirit and exuberance so you feel swept along and caught inside the performers’ zest and drive to bring their story, and yet for all their youthful energy there is nothing amateurish or unfinished and the moments of poignancy and realisation arrive with a crystalline focus that is deeply moving and utterly true. And then just as seamlessly the moment is gone, moved on and we are delighted and laughing again or surfing the story or beaming off the radiant music and movement.
And one more jewel I have to record for permanent remembrance: the performance of the dog is everything this show has encapsulated: truth, humour, discipline, spirit, delight, poignancy, immense fun and quiet understated sadness. Brilliant!
It ends with a final bright song, through which the players take their smiling bows, and then they again converge into their tight and tightly lit ensemble spot - all individuality again extinguished. Blackout and they are gone.

And i'm still glowing from the experience they made for us.

stalla duffy at cottlesloe

Stella Duffy in conversation with Adjoa Andoh

In her new novel, The Room of Lost Things, writer and actor Stella Duffy paints a vivid picture of life in a South London dry-cleaning shop, where secrets and lies are revealed in its customers’ pockets.

Another masterclass from stella - this time in how good a platform conversation can be
Two artists who cared about us and at the same time knew how to look utterly comfortable and at home on a borrowed set on a borrowed stage
Both women shine with charm and fizz with wit and energy. And each have a care for us: adjoa knowing and remembering to explain references when they arise (tv show 'the wire') and always repeating audience questions and so obviously listening in every moment; and stella too clarifying references (walter mosley) and blending her passions (craft rather than art, magic in the mistakes, the need to give a voice to white working class men as much as young british asian men, letting the story find itself) with real and practical advice (for getting published, for writing, for getting started).
i suspect if i hadn’t known stella already i’d have come away believing that i now did, as i came away feeling i’d met adjoa.
if only these two women would be watched and learned from!

p.s. The Room Of Lost Things is a brilliant read!

Friday, 10 October 2008

'Lunar Sea' (Momix)

'Lunar Sea'


at Peacock Theatre

American company Momix returns to the Peacock Theatre to delight audiences with artistic director Moses Pendleton’s fascinating other-worldly dance creation Lunar Sea. Step into another world where figures glow eerily as they float through the darkness – combining props, light and shadow, Momix’s Lunar Sea is a “black and white ballet” in which dancers in fluorescent costumes float and fly magically, unbound by the laws of gravity.
"A fine merger of illusion, suspense and comedy" THE GUARDIAN

Presented under black light and featuring projections and puppets by Michael Curry (part of the Lion King design team), Moses Pendleton’s surreal world of dance and optical illusion is an exceptionally inventive production that will enthral all ages.

Artistic Director ~ Moses Pendleton


Tsarra Bequette, Jennifer Chicheportiche, Joshua Christopher, Simona DiTucci, Jonathan Eden, Donatello Iacobellis, Robert Laqui, Danielle McFall, Sarah Nachbauer, Christopher Patterson, Cassandra Taylor

Lighting Design ~ Joshua Starbuck and Moses Pendleton
Costume Design ~ Phoebe Katzin, Moses Pendleton, Cynthia Quinn
Puppet Design ~ Michael Curry
Video Projection ~ Moses Pendleton
Video Editing ~ Woodrow F. Dick, III

What a cool show
This is a company who are completely sure about what they do how they do it and how they offer it to us in their audience They know when and how to dazzle us with quite awesome spectacle when to tease us a little and let us see their secrets and when - as with the curtain call - to confront us with their perfectly toned human strength, agility and acrobatic dancing

The first half is called the sea of tranquility and is full of whimsy and teasing and subterranean images floating and flying and dangling and dancing and whizzing and rolling through a kaleidoscope of superimposed images of lunar and interstellar spectrums

Favourite moments
The rolling jelly fish
The rotating legs
The seahorses

The second half is called the bay of Seething and is much hotter and brighter and sharper and dangerous and angular and starts with birds and then is more plants and insects fighting and feeding and crawling and flying
favourite moments:
The zipper insects
The six legged and the four legged spiders
The feathered mouths / wings / flower
The long-winged birds making a crazy waving angular line together
The ghosts that fly through
An easy a show to enjoy and smile through wonderful and surprising enough to hold us mostly captivated through its not quite 2 hours.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

'In The Brown And Red Water' by Tarell Alvin McCraney

In The Red and Brown Water

A fast and loose play

by Tarell Alvin McCraney

at Young Vic

Direction - Walter Meierjohann
Design - Miriam Buether
Light - Jean Kalman
Music - Abram Wilson
Sound - Fergus O'Hare
Casting - Julia Horan CDG
Movement Direction - Ben Wright
Dialect Coach - Neil Swain
Assistant Direction - Patrice Etienne
Adjoa Andoh
Camilla Beeput
Sheri-An Davis
John MacMillan
Cecilia Noble
Javone Prince
Paul Thornley
Ony Uhiara
Ashley Walters
Abram Wilson

I have a dream...

Martin Luther King

The sweltering heat of Louisiana.

Two guys, one girl

And a love so strong it drives you mad
Oya dreams of competing alongside star athletes. She never feels so right as when she’s burning up the track.
As a girl she must choose between her dream and caring for her mother.

As a woman, she’s torn between the man she lives with and the man she can’t live without.
It’s like I got more love in my hands

Than the world got air to breathe.

We are the ones we've been waiting for.

We are the change that we seek.

Barack Obama

A new play by the ‘explosive’ Tarell Alvin McCraney whose The Brothers Size had Young Vic audiences on their feet.
With live music from New Orleans trumpeter and vocalist Abram Wilson.

Most of the space is flooded ankle deep
A piano and a drum. A blue plastic crate.
Around the outside motley chairs on a chipboard platform. And us. Audience also above looking down on the reflecting pool. And sitting waiting in an atmosphere of buzzing excitement - the is a large group here tonight that I think are people in Young Vic's facebook group - the bank of audience opposite are reflected in a gentle shiny shimmer.

The performers enter splashing through the water to make a circle - clocking us as they arrive. Oya in the centre. A hum of male voices over which the women's voices start the story chorus style:
"they say
"i heard
"she screamed
"she cried out
... (from memory and probably not accurate)

This is a story of ordinary / extraordinary black people making and living their lives. It includes Okun Size (from McCraney's previous play The Brothers Size) and his trademark storytelling techniques - characters saying their own stage directions, which give them moments of heightened self-awareness; use of song to both add texture and to move the story forward - and in this the New Orleans jazz man Abram Wilson is an integral part of the story - adding musical comment and dueting with Legba, Oya's wisecracking surrogate brother (also from The Brothers Size?).
As well as splash and reflective shine the water gives the place a complicated wrongness: it is both fluid and heavy, it both floats and holds down, it is playful and oppressive. And the performers inhabit and use it with apparent ease, sometimes explicitly for what it actually is, sometimes as if it wasn't there or its being there was the completely normal condition. And of course it has to make us think of New Orleans after the floods.

A problem with this play though is that the moment of greatest tension when Oya has to choose staying at home with her dying mother rather than take up a running scholarship happens early, and from then we watch life happen (literally) around her as she sinks into an increasingly angry realisation of 'this is all there is': her gentle but unfired relationship with Okun Size, her ungentle but haphazard and powerless relationship with the soldier, her inability to conceive while other's babies surround her. And so somehow her final violent act of defiance misses the shock and emotional punch it should have: dramatically it makes sense, visually it convinces, and yet it fails to hit the solar plexus. This might be because for the first time Oya is required to speak her dialogue from off-stage so we know to expect something and noticing this takes us out of the story flow and we are too primed for a theatrical effect; or perhaps it is that the company are still finding their orchestration with the audience and the right build of focus and varying intensities through to this coup de theatre; or it may be the moment needs to have something more arresting from lights and sound? I liked Oya enormously and felt for her throughout so i'm still puzzling about why her moment of greatest pain left me believing but unmoved.

Nevertheless this is again fine storytelling and again at the Young Vic it's a joy to be part of such a diverse, relaxed and spontaneously responsive audience.

McCraney again makes a play that is universal and resonant and enlightening in its themes of trying to make a life less ordinary from ordinary times and moments; and how to live true to your values in a post-modern disaffected world entirely uncaring, unnoticing and ungiving to any sacrifice however virtuous.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

'40/60' (richard alston dance company)

Richard Alston Dance Company
Dance Umbrella 2008

at Sadlers Wells

‘Shuffle It Right’ ...
... Danced to Hoagy Carmichael is all liquid silk and easy charm. It's a delight to watch and I smiled all the way through until the final solo that has a heavier more world-weary feel. Jason Goddard especially is riveting - combing an impossibly easy flowing lightness with a relaxed smile.
This piece is the joyous highlight of my night.

‘The Men In My Life’ ...
... Is intended to display and impress, and this it certainly does. But the bitsy nature of this birthday concert of highlights cannot hope to accumulate any sustained effect: we watch, we enjoy, we applaud. It is what it is: a series of mostly solos duets made for specific dancers:
Water Music’ is court majestic
Strider’ - danced in silence - presents the men alone and twinned showing off all strength and hold and supple line
Petroushka’ is danced to Stravinsky intricate piano played by Jason Ridgeway and both performers are virtuoso - dressed in black and making dark movements
Rumours Visions’
Dutiful Ducks’ - created originally for Michael Clark and danced with winning good humour by Jonathan Goddard - is quirky and beguiling danced to a brilliant percussive poem
Red Run’ is intimate duet with Pierre Tapon my other favourite dancer from the evening
'Fingerprint' gives Jonathan Goddard a more lyrical movement to use his liquid flow as more of molten flow
The Signal’ returns the mood to courtly elegance and formal pomp finally uniting all eight dancers in a short stately chorus line

Blow Over’ ...
... Is danced in monochrome black and silver to Phillip Glass in a piece that becomes increasingly exciting. Again Pierre Tapon holds the attention.

Martyn says he enjoyed it somewhat - but lots of flouncing and posing

It's an easy night watching beautiful perfect young men and women moving beautifully to a variety of mostly beautiful music in very tight beautiful and mostly tiny costumes: just what the ballet should be perhaps … It is also what it claims to be: joyous, uplifting and wonderfully rejeuvenating.

Friday, 3 October 2008

*** 'Hedda' - The Gate Theatre

The Gate Theatre presents

World Premiere


by Henrik Ibsen

Adapted by Lucy Kirkwood

Hedda, still mourning for the father she adored, returns from a six-month honeymoon with a man she no longer loves. The only way she can find passion and excitement is through the wilful damage of others. Trapped, dangerous and caught between the three men in her life; something in the end must give...
Director Carrie Cracknell

Designer Holly Waddington

Lighting Katharine Williams

Choreographer Temitope Ajose-Cutting

Sound Ed Lewis

Casting Lucy Bevan
Cast Cara Horgan - Hedda Gabler, Cath Whitefield - Julia Tesman, Tom Mison - George Tesman, Alice Patten - Thea Eldridge, Christopher Obi - Toby Brack, Adrian Bower - Eli Longford

Everything about this show works

We walk in to our seats, past Hedda listlessly smoking, down the stairs and through the room of their new house.

The new version of this show places everything in the actual here-and-now: the house is in Notting Hill, the people are Oxford graduates, George and Hedda are returned from travels through Japan, it is early Autumn September...

The design works so intimately we feel as though we are in George and Hedda's flaking house amongst the packing boxes. It is easy to feel Hedda's sense of being trapped - she is the only character who never leaves the house. We see the the other characters though her eyes, but at the same time we are constantly looking for clues to understand her through these other people:

George puppy dog energies that in the end become steeled into his fierce morality reflect Hedda's amorality;

Thea's wispy fragility that becomes a fluid strength of purpose and focus reflects a vapid vacuousness in Hedda;

Eli's manic fire and violence that becomes a lurching blind hysteria shows Hedda off with a childish immaturity and spite - shot through with teenage melodrama reaching for effect rather than meaningful substance;

Julia's cloying lack of self esteem that shows off Hedda's cruelty in all its delicious malice;

and Toby's determined easy manipulation that makes Hedda's meddling look clumsy and amateur

From the first moment of this show we are held completely in this room with these people - and increasingly so with Hedda herself, who expertly never loses our sympathy. She dangles us brilliantly between being a woman of great mystery and woman of great hurt and vulnerability, seducing us into believing - along with Tesman, Longford and Brack - that we are the only one who can fully understand and therefore save her. It is a brilliant performance but one that relies totally on the same completeness from her fellow actors.

The new writing makes the play relevant and real without losing sacrificing anything from the original (i will look forward to reading this new text along with a previous translation). One of its triumphs is to make every word and every action unquestionably acceptable, although this is not a play where i felt every next moment is inevitable - it keeps a sense of possibility right though into the final moments of Hedda's response to being trapped under Brack's power, so that as well as believing that she has and would shoot herself, there is still the possibility that she never fully intended to die.

The use of contemporary music throughout added mood, texture and placement to 'reading' the play and its people - especially Hedda

I am also hugely curious to know what the writing process involved and to what extent the players received a near-finished text to bring to life or rather the text was made through a process of collaborative performance making.

absolutely the best experience i have had watching a classic play since 'Major Barbara'.