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Flash Journal, 11-17: Minimal to Maximal
Burrows & Fargion Speak Dance; Morris, Brown, Move, Clark et al Give Bourne a Val-edictory

By Josephine Leask
Copyright 2006 Josephine Leask

LONDON -- Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion performed their minimalistic but totally engaging double act, "Speaking Dance," a commission from Dance Umbrella 2006, to a packed house at The Place on October 19. Two chairs, two microphones, a CD player and a couple of small percussion instruments make up the modest set for Burrows the 'dancer' and Fargion the 'musician,' in this their third onstage collaboration. Burrows joins Fargion in most of the voice and sound work but at various intervals stands up and unassumingly performs a series of short gestural arm movements while Fargion sings traditional Italian folk songs. Everything about their performance is understated and underperformed, although by no means under-rehearsed. They are clear, concise, and extremely articulate in their delivery of words and noises. Sometimes they sound like an a cappella duo, at other times like rappers, who 'rap' with numbers, mundane words such as "stop," "stomp," and "start," and other, nonsensical sounds.

Burrows and Fargion assume a completely unforced performance style, reminding me of two friends jamming on a Sunday afternoon. There is an air of unpredictability about their performance and as a result, slight incredulity at how the spectators will respond. For most of this double-act, the audience is in stitches. Something about their relationship, which is somewhere between that of a married couple and a meeting of two polite strangers, as well as the absurdity of what they are actually doing is incredibly humorous. At times they too look at the audience as if they cannot believe what they are doing. Their interaction with us is very friendly and conversational, and one can't help but feel affection towards these men who are quietly throwing away all the traditional conventions of dance performance. All that they are really doing is 'speaking dances' rather than performing them. (To read about the pair's previous collaboration "The Quiet Dance," click here, and about their "Both Sitting Duet," here.)

Bourne's Star-Studded Val-edictory

The Dance Umbrella Gala, which marked the end off this year's Umbrella on November 5, was hosted by the American Martha Graham impersonator Richard Move, at Sadler's Wells Theatre. Thus the gala, entitled Martha@The Wells, was introduced and rounded off by the colorful and larger than life 'Martha,' who also paid tribute to Dance Umbrella artistic director Val Bourne, stepping down after 28 years. The program was intended to reflect the breadth and diversity of dance performance, the modern, post-modern, cutting edge, international work that Bourne was accustomed to choosing for her festival. The work of American choreographers Mark Morris and Trisha Brown, British choreographers Aletta Collins, Michael Clark, Charles Linehan, New Art Club, Kim Brandstrup and Richard Alston and Irish step dancer Seosamh O'Neachtain was included in the evening; all had played a part in the history of Bourne's Dance Umbrella.

While the program was a "pick and mix" crowd pleaser, and did not have the experimental edge that Dance Umbrella had boasted in the '80s and '90s, it did successfully chart the changing styles and aesthetics of dance in the last 30-odd years. I was interested to see Trisha Brown's iconoclastic "Accumulation" followed by Charles Linehan's fluid, soft and non-theatrical duet "Excerpt from 'New Quartet.'" Brown pioneered non-theatrical, minimal performance and the use of a 'relaxed' body in dance, whereas Linehan comes from a generation of young British dancers who have grown up with contact improvisation and release techniques as a fundamental part of their training. His work is so laid back that it makes Brown's look almost edgy!

Michael Clark, who made a guest appearance in his own "Merce's Nurse," demonstrated his highly seductive movement style, a combination of the vertical and the vulgar. The clash of fast Cunningham technique and Cecchetti, juxtaposed with overtly sexual gestures, mainly seen in the over-articulation of pelvic thrusts and pelvic-led movements, is a demanding style for Clark's dancers. However, they look strong and impressive and much more confident than they appeared last year in Dance Umbrella.

Aletta Collins restaged a piece she had made as a student at London Contemporary Dance School 22 years ago, using some of the original dancers. This was a theatrical black comedy, set to a 'treated' version of Tammy Wynette's "Stand by Your Man" in which two female dancers stand by their man in the face of all adversity, i.e adultery and violence. The offending man is framed by a trio of immaculately turned out 'con men,' who lip synch and pose as if to make up for the shortcomings of men in general; the final effect is farcical. The other comic sketch was from New Art Club, and traced the history of German Eurocrash, a style that was developed in Germany and Belgium in the early '90s, by choreographers with "difficult and long names," such as Wim Vandekeybus. As Tom Roden and Pete Shenton of New Art Club demonstrate in their casual, blokey manner, the characteristics of Eurocrash include much shouting and crashing around on stage, often to excessive levels of music.

Richard Move, in spite of his fabulous frocks and assured performance presence as MC, just did not get through to the sense of humour of a detached, cynical London audience, and "Lament," his version of Graham's "Lamentation," did less to bring any positive reaction from them, apart from jogging memories. But Alston's excerpts from "Gypsy Mixture" concluded the gala on a gaudy and raucous note with rousing music from "Electric Gypsyland" and an electric performance by his company, a surprise to everyone and a fitting finish to an evening that touched on the remarkable history of contemporary dance since the '80s and also successfully congratulated Bourne for the part she played in it.


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