Friday, November 14, 2014

'Emerge Festival Week 2' at The Space, 13th November 2014

As long time readers will know, I can bullshit my way through almost anything.  From the freakiest performance art to high-falutin' opera I can just about bluff my way through to a reasoned analysis.  But contemporary dance and experimental choreography?  This might be my Achilles heel.  I know a little about a lot of things, but all I know about dance is what I've picked up from cheesy Hollywood musicals and interviews with popstars. So writing a indepth and well reasoned review of Week 2 of Emerge Festival "new dance works by emerging choreographers" might be a bit of a challenge.  But I like a challenge.  So let's get to it.

First on the bill were Ana Beatriz Meireles and Klaudia Wittman's Circe.  This is described as "If we make truth stand on its head, do we generally fail to notice that our own head, too, is not in its right position?"  I've got to admit that didn't exactly fill me with confidence that I'd 'get' much of out it.  But, a few minutes in one of the performers was writhing about on the floor in a grey fabric sack looking like something that'd escaped from Jacob's Ladder - this I can enjoy.  The two performers move from patterns of cool synchronity to violent conflict, mixing in primal animal movements and creating character from simple movement.  I breath a sigh of relief, perhaps this isn't going to be so incomprehensible after all.

Ana Beatriz Meireles & Klaudia Wittman
In fact, quite a few of these performances are straightforwardly funny.  Nina von der Werth's Gender Bend, performed by Ali Goldsmith, Lucia Chocarro, Thomas Hands and Victoria Guy, is one of them  The crux of this is feminine men and masculine women. So the bearded and buff dancers strike coquettish poses, waggle their chests and jut their hips from side to side, while the women strut around aggressively, slobbily pawing at their breasts.  

This progresses from a dance showcasing the two styles, through an impressive interpretation of thoughts during a date translated to motion and finally into a mimed rendition of Robin Thicke's Give It To U. This is an obvious highlight: Chocarro and Guy stomp their way around the stage like they own the place while the two men gyrate in pants and bowties behind them.  It's funny, expertly performed and makes its point entirely through movement, which I suppose is the point of all this.

Vicki Hearne & Murilo Leite D'Imperio (in rehearsal)
The comedic atmosphere continues with Julia Thorneycroft's Endeavour, performed by Vicki Hearne and Murilo Leite D'Imperio.  The idea is anthropology crossed with reality TV, imagining the evolution of man as a parallel with television shows.  Narrated by an authoritative sounding Jon Beedel, the dancers don confused, nonverbal cavemen personae. So, During a Countdown segment they come up with "ug!" and "ug ug!" as their words. 

Now, much of this is built upon TV shows I don't know much about, but I imagine the bit in the middle with the baking trays was a take on The Great British Bake-Off.  The best sequence was a portion where the dancers began dancing 'badly' (I think to reference Britain's Got Talent).  I imagine it goes against years of training to screw up so badly on purpose, so credit to the two for making this wholly believable.

Kirstie Shears & Michael James Gilburt
We shift into darker territory in Austin Staton's Chivalry is Dead, performed by K-J Clarke-David, Kirstie Shears and Michael James Gilburt.  This is a slightly more opaque tale of domestic abuse that (I think) takes place within one of the dancer's imaginations.  Near as I can tell, a man hears shouting and thumping from his neighbours, followed shortly by sirens outside.  He then wishes he could have stepped in to prevent the abuse; the process represented by frantic physical movements and disturbing acts of violence.  

The final performance; Gerrard Martin Dance's Heyoka, performed by Hannah Burfield, Saaya Takaoka, Jodie Honeybourney and Victoria Winter, headed even further into the abstract.  The four black clad dancers began by apparently re-enacting the famous 'ascent of humanity' diagram, rising up from amphibian-like creature, through ape, to protohominid and up to (wo)man.  These evolutionary processes are sped up or reversed as the dancers are confined inside boxes, each exploring their surroundings and eventually breaking free.

This is a conceptual dance odyssey, one whose narrative thread I lost track of pretty early on. By the time the dancers were stripping off their black clothes to reveal patterned leotards I had absolutely no idea what this was meant to be communicating.  But that's okay.  Just because I don't understand something doesn't mean I don't enjoy it, and there's a simple pleasure in watching these dancers for whom every tiny motion of their bodies is precise and considered.  I especially enjoyed Saaya Takaoka, who even among these four managed to stand out, revealing her own personality within the work.

So interpretative, contemporary dance isn't as inaccessible as I'd suspected.  While I still don't think this kind of stuff will ever be entirely  up my street I still had a pretty damn good time.  Credit is due to all the performers, choreographers and organisers for putting on a consistently excellent evening.

Emerge Festival continues into Week 3 next week, tickets here and here.

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