Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Wales Dance Platform Day 3 (Riverfront Arts, Newport)

Cat Ryan and Despina Goula. Pic: Roy Campbell-Moore

The third and final day of Wales Dance Platform was a hectic affair, the scheduling of which was knocked out of kilter right from the off with some time-consuming set-pieces in the first session. However, it was sadly too easy to forget the exhibitions on display, both by Roy Campbell-Moore. The first was The Beauty and the Grit, which showed just how well Roy can capture the intimacy of the performer without intruding on their art. As a former dancer himself he knows when it's working and when it's not, and presents what he calls unsentimental images of dance, exposing both the wonder and the torment - the beauty and the grit.

The second display was images captured of Sandra Harnisch-Lacey's dance Spin, which used multiple levels to show off the freedom and elasticity of the human form. These energetic images were presented in blown-up form around the foyer, and could so easily have been missed by the hurried visitor. They capture the dancers' movement in perfect frozen form; it's almost like you can touch their movement.

Roy Campbell-Moore in the Harnisch-Lacey exhibition.
Pic: Roy Campbell-Moore

Pic: Steve Stratford
Coreo Cymru had its own stage as part of the overall weekend, in collaboration with Theatr Iolo and funded by the Arts Council of Wales. Sadly, it was the sheer spectacle of what they were trying to offer which threatened the smooth running of the day as a whole, as the technical requirements and clean-up in between presentations were severely underestimated. First up was Sage Bachtler Cushman and Hugo Oliveira's Arvores do deserto (Desert Trees), an impressive spectacle of polystyrene snow and a wintry landscape. The entire piece hung on Oliveira's skill at juggling snowballs. Whether it was nerves or the quick set-up, I don't know, but there was much more dropping than there was juggling. This was a shame because the presentation was impressive. If only the execution had kept up with the imagination.

The removal of thousands of tiny polystyrene snowflakes from a studio theatre floor is no easy task, and the rigorous clearing away of the snowy set between presentations took too long, although it did raise quite a round of applause when completed (perhaps louder than that for the show itself?).

The second piece was Into the Water from Up and Over It, a charming, witty fusion of traditional dance and performance art. Suzanne Cleary and Peter Harding were clearly having a whale of a time, the big smiles on their faces showing their love of their craft and the joy in performing it. The energy and level of integration between them was breath-taking. It's so rare to see quite this much symbiosis between performers. Mixing a bit of river dance with country dancing and morris dancing, as well as some beautiful music from Tunng, Into the water was a charming, engaging and warm piece of theatre from two people obviously proud to be doing what they do. I'd love to see more of this.

Sharifa Tonkmor
I first spotted Jodelle Douglas and Sharifa Tonkmor on the BBC's Young Dancer of the Year contest earlier this year and they impressed then with their precision hiphop and body-popping and locking moves. Here they collaborated with Kate Morris on Disjointed for Jukebox Collective, choreographed by Liara Barussi. It tells the tale of a couple of toy shop dolls, one clockwork, the other a string puppet, who are brought to life by a masked inventor reminiscent of Daft Punk. I loved the youthful enthusiasm and well-observed choreography here - Douglas and Tonkmor are real, fresh talents with much to offer, in both movement and expression, and the fantastical quality of this piece really brought these talents to the fore. It was like watching that clockwork ballerina bit in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but with Michael Jackson instead of Dick Van Dyke. The dolls' escape to freedom at the end was heartwarming, but I'm not sure there was a need for the avalanche of white balloons. It just meant there was more stuff to clear up before the fourth and final presentation, delaying the schedule further.

Aerialist Paul Evans' Don't Mention the F Word came with a PG warning, so children in the audience were ushered out, their guardians under the impression that what was next would feature a barrage of offensive language. Indeed it did include the odd F word, but I really don't think the piece needed to use it. You could barely hear it, and it wasn't integral - so why mention the F word at all? Perhaps a ploy to sensationalise what was, in essence, a circus show? All four pieces were meant to merge and integrate circus with theatre and dance, which Up and Over It and Jukebox Collective achieved, but this piece from Flying Diplodocus fell short. The aerial feats were impressive, but it felt out of place within the larger context of the weekend, and the theme of gender inequality felt shoehorned in, and was brought home with very little subtlety. This was a great piece of circus theatre, but it stuck out like a sore trapeze as part of a contemporary dance festival.

Something else which pushed the dance art form in a different direction was TaikaBox's A Study in Telesymbiosis. Dancer Lucy May Constantini was live on stage in Newport while choreographer Tanja Råman was live on stage in Oulu, Finland, and we saw Tanja projected onto the back wall, while those in Finland saw Lucy projected onto theirs. Still with me? In essence, this was a live link-up using Facetime to perform a collaborative international dance piece, but without the damaging carbon footprint. It was a huge success for technology, but I fear the virtual achievement may have overshadowed the dance content. Perhaps the point of the piece was to achieve the live international connection, to see two dancers in different countries connect and react to one another when they weren't really together at all. Well, that it did, but perhaps next time Tanja calls up from Finland there should be some kind of concept behind the ambition too?

Choreographer Mounir Saeed presented Over the Horizon featuring two female dancers, Cêt Haf and Zosia Jo, two women with strong presences elsewhere on the Platform bill. Their bodies covered in Arabic lettering (meant to represent scars, but also comprising their own names), the duo performed in an almost call-and-response manner, partly improvising a set of movements examining the limited viewpoints we impose upon ourselves. Using stark spotlighting, the piece is ethereal and fantastical, and at the end moves into the surreal with the arrival of ribbons strapped to the dancers' heads like something out of a Hellraiser film. It was a very evocative, accomplished piece from a choreographer who is building up an impressive CV. He's definitely one to watch.

Pic: Roy Campbell-Moore
Phil Williams explores the relationship between music and dance to create what he calls a "pure-dance experience". Not sure what that means, but I can see where he's coming from, because within the context of many of the Platform's other presentations, Duality was topping out on pure dance content. Inspired by Einstein's Theory of Relativity, it had the four performers dancing solo, and in duos, and those duos dancing in unison too. While one duo performs, the other might be still, and there was one point where Jamie Morgans was holding the entire body weight of Maria Fonseca for what seemed like an age. Maria is only petite, but to stay unwaveringly still for such a length of time was impressive, and demonstrated, if nothing else, that the dancer's body is a powerhouse of control.

One of the stand-out performers of the weekend for me was Gemma Prangle, whose comedic physicality combines with real dance talent to make a very special, and promising, live theatre performer. She works side by side with choreographer Tamsin Griffiths in The Ship of Fools, based upon a collaboration between Tamsin's father John and herself. The publicity reads like one of those pretentious contemporary dance descriptions which can put you off because you just don't know what it's trying to say ("the piece addresses the world as it was and is today, looking at follies and all things that oppress us"). That's as may be, but what transpired on the stage was nothing short of bonkers. Tamsin dresses in wig and leotard and sports the most enormous false breasts this side of Dolly Parton, while Gemma dresses as a man with drawn-on, Dali-esque facial hair and a hat jammed on her head. Gemma does not speak, so her mime skills come to the fore, which is good to see, but the content of the piece left me, well... a little puzzled. Or rather, very puzzled. Like some kind of Rag Week farce, the performance lurched from puerile to inspired, from infantile to intriguing. If nothing else, it was utterly unique, impossible to categorise. I just dread to think what it's like inside Tamsin's head!

Pic: Roy Campbell-Moore
Down in the Riverfront's Basement (who knew there was one?) was Katie Cunningham's Nuala, an intense performance involving four female dancers and lots of plastic flowers. The sheer physicality of Cunningham's choreography was impressive - these are angry, violent young women - like the flower girls of St Trinian's - caught up in the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Starting with a tirade of abusive language and taking place within a stylised boxing ring, Nuala is brutal and aggressive, powerful and emotive. I was very glad to be on the gantry looking down because I'd hate to get too close to the fire in those girls' bellies!

Kate Lawrence's Vertical Dance was delayed from the morning because of incessant rain, but by the afternoon the sun had his hat on and we all decamped outside to witness a real spectacle. Cat Ryan and Despina Goula combined the art of dance with that of rock climbing to create an astonishing display of horizontal, diagonal and vertical choreography, hanging from ropes down the side of the building. The synchronous movement shown by these two performers was among the tightest I'd seen all weekend, and this is two women dangling from the end of ropes down the side of a building! Gwymon was a representation of a female connection to the sea, inspired by Eluned Morgan's diaries of her voyage to Patagonia in the 19th century. Beautiful and elegant.

The final trio of dances for the Wales Dance Platform weekend began with Deborah Hay's I Think Not?, performed by Anushiye Yarnell. The audience sits in the round and Anushiye edges on, looking for all the world like a circus clown who's dressed in the dark. Over the course of the following 15 minutes - and believe me, 15 minutes can feel so much longer at times like this - Anushiye slides, stumbles, rolls, frog-marches and pirouettes around the stage, whispering under her breath, occasionally letting out a stifled whistle or hum. In silence. It's a challenging work which made some of the onlookers chuckle because sometimes it looked for all the world like a six-year-old girl playing dress-up in her bedroom. When I looked to the publicity to try and make sense of it all I was faced with a barrage of pretension which did nothing to ease my confusion: "My work unfolds a dimension synergising fantasy and reality, reconstructing fragments from the realm of everyday life into existential, functional daydreaming, questioning love and civilisation". Oh really? Now put that into English.

Pic: Roy Campbell-Moore
A few of the performances over the weekend took the art of dance and the dancer as their theme (Christopher Owen's The Creative Act and Gemma Prangle's Dances I Made on My Bathroom Floor), and that was the case with Angharad Matthews' amusing The Audition. It does what it says on the tin, and provides an honest insight into what it's like for a dancer (or a musician or actor) to go through that gruelling, torturous process of auditioning. The internalised thought processes of the auditioning dancers as they choose which outfit to wear and which routine to perform provide both light and weight and really make you feel for the fragile souls who lay themselves bare every time they go for a job. Plus, the piece featured what must be the youngest audition ever, as one dancer was heavily pregnant! It was lovely to watch each dancer's individual interpretation of the dance, their unique little routines acted out to the same monologue of self-conscious inner thoughts and insecurities. And at the end, the table is turned on the audience, as we have been the mirror to their performance all along.

Pic: Roy Campbell-Moore
Finally, Gwyn Emberton brought the entire Platform weekend to a close with his Of the Earth, from Where I Came. The choreographic experience Gwyn brings to the table is palpable, as this is an accomplished, nuanced and utterly beguiling piece in which the solo performer becomes an animalistic creature, sprouting from the earth, then wheeling and cavorting through the freedom of life upon the earth, and finally returning to the earth from whence it came as death takes hold. Dancer Albert Garcia is phenomenal here, lithe and agile, embodying nature and contorting in ways I didn't think were possible (but then, I sit at a laptop and moan for a living; Albert simply flies!). It was a fantastic way to being the Platform to a close, giving the young and inexperienced dancers something to both marvel at and aspire to.

Across its three days Wales Dance Platform 2015 gave us intimate pieces, grandiose spectacles, and everything in between, from dancing on the side of buildings to surreal set pieces. But one thing was constant and that was the conviction of everybody involved, from the performers to the choreographers, the set dressers and costume designers, the lighting and sound technicians, the musicians and photographers. Everybody was there to have fun and be entertained, and the scale and scope of talent on offer was hugely gratifying. I'm so glad everybody got their time in the spotlight, and I hope the ambition on display grows bigger, stronger and never stops shining.

Click here for a review of Day 1 of Wales Dance Platform 2015
Click here for a review of Day 2 of Wales Dance Platform 2015

The stats
Choreographer: Kate Lawrence
Music: Rob Spaull, Henry Horrell, Eve Goodman (voice)
Performers: Cat Ryan, Despina Goula (Vertical Dance)
Arvores do deserto
Choreographers: Sage Bachtler Cushman, Hugo Oliveira
Music: Sage Bachtler Cushman, Hugo Oliveira
Performers: Sage Bachtler Cushman, Hugo Oliveira
Into the Water
Choreographer: Suzanne Cleary, Peter Harding
Music: The Roadside by Tunng
Performers: Suzanne Cleary, Peter Harding (Up and Over It)
Choreographer: Liara Barussi
Performers: Sharifa Tonkmor, Kate Morris, Jodelle Douglas (Jukebox Collective)
Don't Mention the F Word
Choreographer: Paul Evans
Performers: Alice Ellerby, Hannah O'Leary, Nikki Runner, Jean-Daniel Brousse (Flying Diplodocus)
A Study in Telesymbiosis
Choreographers: Tanja Råman, John Collingswood (TaikaBox)
Music: John Collingswood
Performers: Tanja Råman, Lucy May Constantini
Over the Horizon
Choreographer: Mounir Saeed
Music: Fantasy Entrance and Soul's Steps by Mounir Saeed, Agnus Dei by Samuel Barber
Performers: Zosia Jo, Cêt Haf
Choreographer: Phil Williams
Music: Harriet Riley
Performers: Jamie Morgans, Christopher Radford, Andrea Hackl, Maria Fonseca (Cascade Dance Theatre)
The Ship of Fools
Choreographer: Tamsin Griffiths
Music: Various clips of Queen, PJ Harvey, Pink etc, edited by Tamsin Griffiths
Performers: Tamsin Griffiths, Gemma Prangle
Choreographer: Katie Cunningham
Music: Farewell to Ireland (artist unknown), Danny Boy by Elvis Presley
Performers: Rebecca Edwards, Laura Parsons, Sadia Karim, Lucy Rigler
I Think Not?
Choreographer: Deborah Hay
Performer: Anushiye Yarnell
The Audition
Choreographer: Angharad Matthews
Music: Tic Ashfield
Performers: Gemma Prangle, Katy Clay, Louise Lloyd, Sara Mcgaughey, Sinnead Tanisha Marie Ali, Charlotte Clark, Eloise Nancy Glynn, Rachel Miller, Tamsin Griffiths (Nurture Creative Dance Theatre)
Of the Earth, from Where I Came
Choreographer: Gwyn Emberton
Music: Benjamin Talbott
Performer: Albert Garcia
Performed at Riverfront Arts, Newport, on June 28th, 2015, as part of Wales Dance Platform 2015

Wales Dance Platform website (retrieved Jun 30th 2015)
Sandra Harnisch-Lacey website (retrieved Jun 30th 2015)
Roy Campbell-Moore website (retrieved Jun 30th 2015)
Kate Lawrence website (retrieved Jun 30th 2015)
Coreo Cymru website (retrieved Jun 30th 2015)
Sage Bachtler Cushman website (retrieved Jun 30th 2015)
Up and Over It website (retrieved Jun 30th 2015)
Jukebox Collective on Twitter (retrieved Jun 30th 2015)
Paul Evans website (retrieved Jun 30th 2015)
TaikaBox website (retrieved Jun 30th 2015)
Zosia Jo website (retrieved Jun 30th 2015)
Cascade Dance Theatre website (retrieved Jun 30th 2015)
Katie Cunningham website (retrieved Jun 30th 2015)
Anushiye Yarnell website (retrieved Jun 30th 2015)
Angharad Matthews on Facebook (retrieved Jun 30th 2015)
Gwyn Emberton website (retrieved Jun 30th 2015)

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