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Log-in From London – February 2018

Posted on March 27, 2018

Emerging contemporary choreographers, flamenco and Shakespeare dominated February’s dance scene in London. The annual Flamenco Festival London took up residency at Sadler’s Wells for a fortnight, while another annual festival, Resolution, came to a close at The Place. The month ended with three successive shows – each in a very different dance form – based on a Shakespeare play.

The month’s dance started at the Peacock Theatre with Lebensraum, by Jakop Ahlbom Company, a revival of a cleverly crafted tribute to Buster Keaton. Part of the London Mime Festival, it opened with an authentic recreation of the kitchen scene from the 1920 film, The Scarecrow, and continued as a keenly-observed tribute to the golden era of silent comedies. Ahlbom’s trademark blend of illusion and acrobatics achieved a theatrical spectacle that bore many similarities to the cinematic magic of his long-departed hero. Three closely interacted performances by Ahlbom, Reinier Schimmel and Silke Hundertmark (a most realistic mannequin) were delivered with extraordinary dexterity and mischievious humour.

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch made its now-accustomed spring visit to Sadler’s Wells with Viktor, the opening instalment of Bausch’s world city series. Made in 1986, it was inspired by sundry Roman experiences, beginning with a wedding in a grave and lasting a marathon three hours. The company’s episodic blend of the surreal, delivered through a non-stop procession of overlapping imagery, brought a touch of Fellini to the stage in a strange cocktail of humour, abuse, elegance, argument and gymastics. The organised anarchy provided compelling viewing channelled through the well-honed familiarity of mature and experienced performers, refreshed here and there with new faces.

Jonathan Goddard as Macbeth, and Eleanor Duval as Lady Macbeth in Mark Bruce Company’s Macbeth. Photographs: Mark Bruce (1-2) and Nicole Guarino (3-4).

I caught another five evenings of Resolution during the month, totalling 15 separate performances of refreshing new ideas. Several works were made by, for and about women. Arunima Kumar (already a well-established Kuchipudi artist) made an important statement about the imprisonment of a woman who killed her abusive husband in self-defence; it featured an outstanding multi-instrument, musical performance by Nao Musada. Jasmine Andrews continued to impress with theatrical flair and fluid neoclassical dance, this time in Sketch Dance Company’s My Other Half (a tale of two sisters separated at birth, meeting later in life). Another female choreographer making her way up the ladder is Justine Reeve, who gave a funny and poignant view of the eccentricities of the audition process in Living is Dancing. Jade Hackett’s extract from her full-length work, The Duke Joint, showed strong narrative dance theatre in a tale of familial love in a matriachal household of servants in the American South, led by Caramel Jones as the mother. It’s a work I would love to see in full.

Living Room Circus’ The Penguin and I was a slick and enjoyable mix of absorbing, surreal, fascinating ideas and polished dexterity, studded with a couple of breathtaking tricks and an innovative, intimate Cyr Wheel routine by Josh Frazer. Circus-based theatre is on a popular high and I suspect that Living Room Circus will be joining that touring elite some time soon. The most poignant of works came in Shaun Dillon’s Hiraeth, which combined fluid movement virtuosity, anger and quiet reflection in a piece fuelled by the trauma of a close personal loss. Resolution 2018 ended on February 23 with a typically random collection of works, opening with Brian Gillespie’s well-established B-Hybrid Dance in an absorbing interrogation of the male gender; Yu-Hsien Wu’s collection of miniature dance solos showcased the lithe plasticity and movement quality already known from her work with Russell Maliphant and Alexander Whitley; and finished with Gibbon, an entertaining mix of physical theatre and juggling choreographed and performed – with great skill – by Chris Patfield and Jose Triguero, both of whom have connections with Gandini Juggling Project. All-in-all, this was a most diverse and enjoyable Resolution festival, and it will be fun to follow the continuing progress of these emerging dancers and choreographers.

I caught six of the seven main stage shows at Flamenco Festival London, and it was another divergent experience. The best of the best came with the purest of flamenco arts, performed with a depth of experience, and in the poignancy of appreciating the twilight of legendary careers. First by experiencing the extraordinary expressive power of the deep vocal dexterity of Carmen Linares’ cante jondo, supported by the passionate versatility in the voices of Marina Heredia and Arcángel, and followed by the improvisational brilliance of La Chana, still the alchemist of magic in the beat, albeit now, at 71, required to demonstrate the ferocity of her footwork while seated. She was the star attraction of the traditional Gala Flamenca, inviting an emotional response that stopped short of maudlin.

Jesús Carmona in Ímpetus at Flamenco Festival London. Photographs: Marcos G Punto.

There was great dancing, too, on a nightly basis, mostly by women. Ana Morales brought elegance of movement to decorate the Linares vehicle, Tempo de Luz, and María Pagés reprised her Yo Carmen that had been seen at the Edinburgh International Festival last summer. She was backed by an outstanding octet of other bailaoras. Sisters Úrsula and Tamara López, together with Leonora Leal, created descriptive dances to illustrate the paintings of Julio Romero de Torres, and Isabel Bayón mixed tanztheater with flamenco in Dju-Dju, a strange, deconstructive concept co-created with Israel Galván but danced by Alicia Márquez and Nieves Casablanca (two excellent bailaoras whose notable disparity in height was clearly part of the humour).

Four flamenco shows and 16 female dancers had passed before a man kicked a heel on the Sadler’s Wells stage. When the men came, it was with a weight of experience. First, La Chana’s supporting cast in the Gala Flamenca comprised Antonio Canales, the Beau Brummel of flamenco fashion, and El Farru (sometimes known as Farruco), brother of Farruquito and a member of the legendary Los Farruco dynasty. Both danced with exceptional charisma and gave volatile bursts of exciting zapateadeo (footwork). It was the consistent brilliance of Jesús Carmona, however, throughout Ímpetus, that joined the singing of Linares as my absolute highlight of highlights in this treasure trove of flamenco.

The annual Ensemble Productions gala at the London Coliseum was in honour of Russian Ballet Icons generally, rather than anyone in particular (as has usually been in the case). The usual gala fare (The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, Don Quixote and Le Corsaire) was joined by works not seen in London before, notably an extract from Yuri Possokhov’s controversial new Nureyev, which revealed very little about the work. Another excerpt from a new ballet, Warrior of Light (about the Russian painter, Nicholas Roerich) by the Family Khan/MacKay, with an uncredited Fernando Montaño impressively replacing Julian MacKay at a day’s notice and Roerich uncannily portrayed by 17-year-old Nicholas MacKay. Together with Maria Sascha Khan and Nadia Khan, this was quite a family show. There was also a UK premiere for Ricardo Cue’s The Swan (inspired by his friend, Maya Plisetskaya) that was superbly danced by Sergio Bernal. This gala, always well organised, benefits from a full orchestra and attracts a heady list of stars (Maria Alexandrova, Federico Bonelli, Vladimir Lantratov, Francesca Hayward, Kimin Kim, Ekaterina Krysanova, Xander Parish, Polina Semionova, Viktoria Tereshkina and more). It didn’t disappoint.

Ben Duke and Solène Weinachter in Juliet and Romeo. Photographs: Jane Hobson.

A coincidence of Shakespeare ended the month with The Royal Ballet’s The Winter’s Tale, Mark Bruce’s Macbeth and Lost Dog’s Juliet and Romeo bringing February to a close. Christopher Wheeldon’s full-length ballet is settling in as a permanent fixture in the repertoire, enlivened by Bob Crowley’s designs, both monumental and pastoral, and bolstered by superb characterisations, especially from Lauren Cuthbertson reprising the role of Hermione (in which Fumi Kaneko made an outstanding debut in another cast). Ryoichi Hirano brought elegance and stature to Leontes, and his duet of reconciliation with Cuthbertson was performed with palpable emotion. Laura Morera’s empathetic reading of Paulina was outstanding while Sarah Lamb and Vadim Muntagirov performed with touching sentimentality and virtuosic flair as Perdita and Florizel.

A new work by Mark Bruce is relatively rare but always worth the wait, and the depth of expressionism and spectacle in his Macbeth has produced another winning production. It seems Jonathan Goddard was destined to perform the title role and his focus – determined, anguished, tortured, murderous – is all-absorbing. Macbeth may never have deserved to be king, but Goddard’s portrayal was majestic. Eleanor Duval also gave a superb performance as his scheming wife. The cast was outstanding throughout and, as always, Bruce’s eclectic choice of music was integral to the work’s success. In addition, Wilton’s Music Hall was as evocative a venue as it had been for Bruce/Goddard’s previous success in Dracula.

The last evening of February was taken up with Juliet and Romeo, sub-titled A Guide to Long Life and Happy Marriage, a clever reconstruction of the well-trodden tale, bringing it into modern times with the twist of Romeo failing the courage to take his life. Juliet wakes up and, in due course, she and Romeo live together as a married couple. Lost Dog’s piece starts with their marriage in freefall unhappiness. In the title roles, Solène Weinachter and Ben Duke each relive aspects of their past relationship (“Paris had potential”, reminisces a disillusioned Juliet), mostly through cleverly-crafted spoken text punctuated by fast bursts of dance. This thoughtful modern fable was poignant and funny; built upon one of the world’s best-known tragedies, it was an innovative and uplifting end to an exceptionally diverse and outstanding month in dance.

Main photograph: Ryoichi Hirano as Leontes and Lauren Cuthbertson as Hermione in The Winter’s Tale.
Photograph: Tristram Kenton courtesy of the Royal Opera House.

Graham Watts writes for magazines, websites, theatres and festivals across Europe, and in Japan, Australia and the USA. He is chairman of the Dance Section of the Critics’ Circle and of the National Dance Awards; a mentor of aspiring dance writers through the Resolution Review programme; and has lectured at The Place and the Royal Academy of Dance. His book, ‘Agony & Ecstasy’, written with Daria Klimentová, was published in 2013. Graham is a Commonwealth fencing medallist; was captain of the GB sabre team at the Barcelona Olympics; and fencing team leader at the Olympic Games of Athens and Beijing. He was appointed OBE, in 2008.

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