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Review, 7-23: True Believer
Agis goes with the Flow
By Josephine Leask
Copyright 2004 Josephine Leask
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LONDON -- "Explicit
Faith," presented by Gaby Agis and Company July 16 in the splendidly
refurbished St Luke's church which now houses the prestigious London
Symphony Orchestra, was a refreshingly different dance event. Gaby
Agis is a choreographer who has benefited from an eclectic career
of collaborations with leading artists of other disciplines, such
as writers, sculptors, architects and film makers. Her work, therefore,
does not sit neatly within the dance field but overflows delightfully
into other artistic streams and reaches more diverse audiences.
Her movement, developed from intensive study with Joan Skinner,
a pioneer of the highly sensory Skinner/Release technique, has resulted
in a dance style which is subtle, aware but casual and wildly spontaneous.
What Agis and her company
of dancers share in "Explicit Faith" is an unrestrained, carefree
yet also deeply responsive dynamic. They take us on a journey of
massive emotions, through challenges, relationships, celebrations,
loss and coming together which peaks in some truly ecstatic moments.
This unbridled ecstasy -- missing in so much of today's intense
and careful contemporary dance -- recalls the liberated quality
within the work of early pioneers of modern dance, such as Isadora
Duncan. Agis is unrestrained by the usual rules of contemporary
dance and breaks convention after convention. She uses a soundtrack
of her favorite, highly emotive music, which includes Dido, Joy
Division, PJ Harvey, Kate Bush and the Beatles, and one feels that
the dancers with their frequent costume changes simply wear their
favorite items of clothing. The work lasts nearly two hours without
a break and about half way through Agis 'stops' the show to make
a public apology for breaking her sister's toe when she was a child.
She also gives us personal information about her brothers and sisters,
as if we the viewers were her close confidantes. At this point in
the piece her regular company is joined by six guest performers,
who step out from the audience and dance a couple of numbers then
leave, as if she had invited them as friends to come and appear
in her show. The movement itself throughout "Explicit Faith" is
derived from pedestrian action, soft, free flowing, informal and
apparently unstructured. Often the dancers just boogie like they
would at a party but nothing is forced or artificial. In other words,
they really let it all hang out.
What is wonderful about
"Explicit Faith" is that you just don't know what's going to happen
next. While there is a fair amount of dross -- workshop material
that is really not that interesting to see in a performance -- the
highlights are thought-provoking and evoke a multitude of memories
and images. Throughout the work every dancer performs a solo that
is about them and their experience and so we really get to know
the performers as individuals. At one point, they perform a series
of pedestrian movements in a long line and they all look so uniquely
different that it reminds me of the advertising campaigns used by
Calvin Klein for his uni-sex perfume. Another high point comes when
one of the dancers who is visibly pregnant changes into a Hawaiian
skirt and Dr. Martens boots and performs an unashamedly bold celebratory
dance while the other dancers smear her ritualistically with paint.
She then stands up very close to the audience and stares for some
ten minutes in a very intimate and communicative way, as if she
is having a conversation with each one of us. Finally, a set of
beautifully filmed close-up images of each of the dancers' faces
being drenched in water creates a lingering impression.
While there are moments
that make you wince in this work, there's a welcome naivety which
challenges your sophisticated perceptions about dance, and throws
you off guard. It is great to see a dance performance that is not
concerned with sticking to dance codes, or trying to convey a certain
image, but is more interested in conveying moods and personalities
and wholeheartedly embracing its audience.
Agis herself is a striking
woman, surrounded by an aura of calm and strength which is compelling
for a viewer. I begin to think that she is like a neo-primitive
goddess, or a postmodern Isadora Duncan, a woman who dances her
way over vast artistic territories, embracing the arts and popular
culture, as well as life experience.
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