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Flash Review 2, 7-15: Collaborations
Musicians Crowd Laban Centre Show

By Josephine Leask
Copyright 2003 Josephine Leask

LONDON -- Final year Laban students were stretched in many different performance directions during their recent graduation repertory platform when they performed the work of several diverse choreographers. The choreographers selected to make work on the students included four British rising talents: Henri Oguike, Lisa Torun, Sonia Rafferty and Jonzi D.

The Laban Centre London is renowned for producing choreographers over and above performers, emphasizing devising, crafting and collaboration alongside performance studies, so that while some professional choreographers may find the emphasis on input from the students hampers their personal choreographic process, others welcome the zealous collaborative spirit. Collaboration was further explored by a union with a local music college, Trinity College, which provided a string ensemble and live music for the dancers, a marriage with good intentions but that rather soured the evening for me.

The different styles of the choreographers were suitably testing for students on their departure from a safe, nurturing college environment into the ruthless professional dance world. The work in the first half of the program, by Henri Oguike and Sonia Rafferty, had more in common than the pieces in the second half. Both featured textured and layered movement patterns and large group formations which splintered off into solos, duets and trios, following the music closely. Oguike works symbiotically with music and in this piece, the choreography increasingly gained a more defined relationship with the music. His work usually looks very pure aesthetically but sometimes lacks depth, as was the case with this student performance.

By the interval I felt a bit disillusioned -- not so much by the choreography, but ironically by the dominating presence of the string ensemble, which was situated like an awkward backdrop behind the dancers. Positioning of live musicians on stage with dancers is crucial. While the music students played several challenging scores well, the presence of some 25 musicians was too imposing and the chosen scores brought out too much melodrama in the dancing. For me the end result of the live ensemble performing with dancers, instead of enlivening the dance seemed to flatten it. The Laban Centre is meant to represent the new cutting edge of contemporary dance, but with a forced marriage to a classical music college the work falls into the territory of ballet or archaic contemporary dance. While it is great for students to have the opportunity to work with live music and while I love classical music, such a music ensemble is not the only form of live music which contemporary dance makers are going to choose in their careers, and it seemed to labor the whole point of collaboration having them there for all four pieces.

Thankfully the second half proved to be more interesting, as the solid, domineering music ensemble was diminished. Jonzi D's "Shattered" was a bold and sobering response to war. The choreography spelt out the schizophrenic mood swings of people hit by trauma, from the calm to the hysterical. Jonzi D is a choreographer, poet, rapper and MC who defines his work as hip hop theatre which is vibrant, highly expressive and extremely articulate. With a true rap sensibility, his work communicates directly to the inner emotion rather than being evasively abstract like so much contemporary dance.

In "Shattered," Jonzi's music collaboration was intriguing and incongruous. Here there was no DJ spinning vinyl but a fair-skinned, blonde-haired solo harpist, who sat amidst the dancers like an angel. Nor was the music, composed by Alicia Ambrose, all the sweet ethereal sounds that one expects from a harp but instead aggressive and tormented in places. The edgy harpist seemed to tug the strings rather than caress them in her efforts to create tragic emotion. Meanwhile the dancers clumped together, dragged their feet, bowed their heads, then suddenly burst into fast, possessed, flaying actions. Each of the 15 student dancers told their personal story as they took us on their collective journey through violence, terror and bereavement. The work was grounded, sober yet very alive and tested the performance skills of the students to the maximum, and they did a pretty good job. It was also by far the most intriguing piece with its numerous juxtapositions.

To finish off the evening and lighten the mood, Swedish choreographer and singer Lisa Torun's "Chez Melle Sarabande" was a bawdy romp to the Bach influenced music of Arvo Part. With a lot of laughing, shouting and general banter the dancers ran on stage from all places and performed frog leaps and somersaults dressed in titillating baroque-style costumes. The choreography from its gestural beginnings developed into more consistent dance material, but kept up its flamboyant ribaldry and its courtly solemnity with some long still moments. Torun, a sassy, humorous choreographer reinvigorates the traditional and like Arvo Part's score, the dancers spilt onto the stage like notes on the page, playing the line between rigid control and wild debauchery.

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