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Henri Oguike Dance Company at Queen Elizabeth Hall

Posted on May 7, 2006

The conjunction of Henri Oguike Dance Company and Britten Sinfonia, performing at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on May 7 to a large and rapturous audience, was evidence of Oguike’s keen commitment to setting modern dance to live music. In each of the works shown, whether the scores were Shostakovich, Tippett or a commission by Steve Martland, Oguike’s close reaction to musical dynamics was abundantly demonstrated.

Oguike, whose splendidly sound training and early performance experience came from London Contemporary Dance School and Richard Alston Dance Company (1994–97), is a choreographer with a recognisably strong personal identity. He set up his own group in 1999, and his wide-ranging career since then, at home and abroad, has been marked by unusual collaborations with musicians and influential master-class teaching.

Front Line, described as his “signature piece” and created in Birmingham in 2002, is set to Shostakovich’s String Quartet No 9 in E flat, and contains all the elements that establish his approach to dance. Forceful and aggressive, it offers staccato non-stop ensemble patterns to which each of the cast contributes an individual thread. His dancers are talented, tireless and committed, working smoothly as a team. Oguike is particularly inventive over unexpected steps and gestures, orchestrated hand flapping, quick, violent confrontations and brief hints of emotional involvements.

Tippett’s Concerto for Double String Orchestra, a tribute to the composer’s centenary first danced in St Edmundsbury Cathedral in Bury St Edmunds in 2005, was a work of great ingenuity. A full set of onstage instrumentalists was the background for whiteclad dancers who performed cheerfully brisk and almost skittish sequences that relied rather too much on a variously designed use of arm or hand-linked lines. There was, at moments, a sense of stylistic relationship with works by Pina Bausch and Ohad Naharin. The central movement, however, was devoted to a compelling and reflective male solo that offered more lyrical depth than was apparent elsewhere in the evening. Tiger Dancing, also staged in Bury St Edmunds in 2005, promised an attractive association of dance with Blake’s poem The Tyger, but it was hard to detect any choreographic or musical connection between the two works. The type of movement seemed more simian than feline; but, again, the work was rewarding in its great choreographic vigour and ingenuity.

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