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Review 2, 8-3: Cultural Currency
Royal Opera House goes Contemporary for Summer Collection '04
By Josephine Leask
Copyright 2004 Josephine Leask
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LONDON -- As part of
the Royal Opera House 2 program which presents dance that is more
diverse and experimental than what is seen on the main stage of
the Royal Opera House, the Summer Collection '04 offers a season
of innovative contemporary dance which takes place in the large,
beautiful Clore studio at the top of the Royal Opera House. The
first half of the season, entitled "New: Currents," platforms culturally
diverse work by British-based artists originally from other continents,
and tends to draw on classical, folk, martial arts and other cultural
forms from across the globe.
The program on July
20 featured several artists who are established names amongst the
London dance community; for this night, each presented a solo which
was firmly rooted in personal experience of a particular cultural
art form or martial art. The first artist was Jean Abreu, with "O
Lungo Drom," a deeply sensitive solo inspired technically by Brazilian
capoeira, but with a subtext which explored migration and identity.
At the beginning Abreu walks quietly into corridors of light, which
spring up in different areas of the stage, as if he is navigating
the space. In this opening section, there is a lot of stillness,
waiting, sensing and testing out fragments of movement before he
goes into a substantial dance section which builds momentum gradually
and powerfully. It is here that Abreu displays the spongy, light,
fast athleticism that we associate with capoeira. He does not perform
only the showy moves and balances from Brazilian capoeira but rather
adopts the weighted springy quality of the art form and applies
it to speedy turns, lunges and arm gestures.
Abreu has a wonderfully
sensuous movement style; compactly muscular, he moves with a grounded
gracefulness, drawing on many diverse dance forms. The choreography
is intelligent and sensitive to its subject: migration and the uncertainties
of living amongst other cultures. You can see him actually thinking
on stage -- every action has significance, with nothing thrown in
purely for effect. The movement calms down towards the end of the
solo, and the shadowy corridors of light appear again. Migration
is a never-ending, always insecurity-making process, full of arrivals
and departures and soul searching, but this Brazilian-born artist
remains unruffled and confident wherever he is.
The next artist was
Dutch-born Ellen van Schuylenburch, who has earned an impressive
international profile, having performed with Netherlands Dance Theater
2, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane, Karole Armitage and Michael Clark,
among others. For New: Currents, however, she created a solo, "Silence,"
which fused her Western contemporary dance background with her experience
of the Keralan martial arts kalaripayattu and chhau, studied during
a residency in Trivandrum, southern India. Van Schuylenburch is
well know for her virtuosic technique, so it was interesting to
see her perform in a very different style, much of which consisted
of a series of postures executed while sitting on the floor. The
movement is very sculptural, very contemplative and still, but also
brittle, as she has a mesmerizing air of vulnerability about her.
It is strange to see her balletic articulation, turned out pointed
feet and sinewy strength fused with the directed but meditative
moves of the kalari-inspired martial art. The overall impression
one takes away from "Silence" is that van Schuylenburch has made
this solo relevant to her life ten years further on and there is
something tragic yet resolved about it.
Finally, Jacqui Chan
performed a solo which used her background in Noh theater and story-telling.
While Chan, who is of Chinese descent, has had a career which has
included dancing, choreographing, and acting, it's her interest
in the story-telling tradition of Noh theater and the purity of
the Samurai warrior tradition that is explored here, in "The Incomparable
Couple of Sendai." Dressed in traditional Samurai costume and accompanied
by her director John Martin tapping on a drum, Chan tells a charming
story of a lapsed Samurai warrior and his heroic wife, executing
some clean and striking moves to illustrate her tale. Her narrative
is as effortless as her movement, uncluttered by melodrama or ego,
and it is riveting.
What was so great to
see in this program was really brilliant technical dancers not displaying
their usual skills but rather taking the audience with them on a
collection of uniquely personal journeys into wildly different cultural
idioms besides western contemporary dance.
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