March 2009

by Rachel Gildea

Not even the pre-show warning from Saori could have prepared me for what I was about to witness. The show was to be an ‘emotional rollercoaster’, and the audience were asked to ‘enjoy the ride’. It came off the rails fairly rapidly.
Moran’s opening line ‘This sucks…I hate doing the show’ set a confusing tone.
‘The show’ was a series of sketches and private jokes between the unlikely double-act: Saori, a charming Japanese dancer and John, an intense and nervy American. Their surreal skits darted with no obvious thread from childhood tantrums to McDonalds’ workers. We were at the mercy of John and Saori’s fickle minds, following the crazy loops and tangents of their thoughts. Was this the rollercoaster?
Perhaps the most puzzling element of ‘the show’ was the conflict between intense preparation and a casual, laid-back delivery. Before he performed the song ‘For Rebecca’ Moran confided his painful love for her. The song was chilling, juxtaposing the low, guitar strings against the high, tortured squeals of his vocals. Suddenly, he interrupted himself, laughing nervously ‘Strange song huh?’ Immediately his performance was demeaned, he was ridiculing himself.
However, the ‘Portrait of Soari’ was impressive. Saori mimed and acted over a pre-recorded sound collage of her quirky sayings (‘Where is my gold earring?’) and Moran’s especially created piano piece. The show was now back on the rails, but unfortunately the ride was over.
The audience were left confused, not knowing whether to applaud. This experimental theatre piece had fizzled and disappointed.

John Moran and his Neighbour Saori (North Wall Arts Centre, Wednesday 18th March 2009)

by Emma Dougan

It’s fairly unusual to begin a ballet performance with ‘behind-the-scenes’ video footage. But then it’s also unusual to be almost knocked over by two young boys running to watch a ballet performance. The Balletboyz’ introduction to their ‘Greatest Hits’ combines their mission statement with their career history, and the general japery that arises when two classically-trained guys travel the world seeking their fortune. It also plays a vital role in bringing down the fourth wall always felt so strongly in ballet, and in heightening their work’s accessibility. In a form in which the artist is necessarily both creator and medium, the Boyz seem keen to emphasise the role of the human rather than the canvas. (This emphasis on shared humanity was sublimely epitomised by the sight of the superhumanly supple Oxana Panchenko resignedly munching a burger on an American sidewalk.)
The first piece of the night, ‘Broken Fall’, lost none of its sense of harmony through its focus on the human and the individual. Its fascination lay partly in the subverted expectations of synchronicity, which seemed the inevitable result of such close co-ordination. There were similar motifs passed around the trio, but each remained a single tone in a chord, rather than striking the same note. The attitude towards the stunning range of lifts was also refreshing, as the male dancers supported each other as well as Panchenko, who in turn struck out confidently, enforcing her own agency throughout.
The subsequent pieces featured both the enjoyment of movement for movement’s sake, and its power for non-verbal communication. Edox witnessed Panchenko and Tim Morris experiencing an almost childish wonder at their bodies’ power, while the relinquishing of physical boundaries in Propeller, an intensely intimate duet between Panchenko and Nunn, created a highly emotive piece laced with tenderness and eroticism.
The finale, a tango choreographed by Craig Revel Horwood, was full of ‘fish out of water’ humour. We saw the dancers learning about an alien form (which is ‘all about discipline. ….And sequins’), and then saw their characters, both in suits evoking the East End diamond geezer, suffer bemusement at their own balleticism, and apprehension at what the other bloke might do next. While I would have enjoyed a finale in the Boyz’ native language, the humour, accessibility, and courage of this piece summed up the source of the Boyz’ charm – which will doubtless inspire others to discover the ballet’s potentials outside the classical arena.

Balletboyz – Greatest Hits (Oxford Playhouse, Friday 23rd January 2009)

By Rachel Gildea

Like a snake charmed from its basket, the first movements of Okan Nijo saw a dancer awaken from a crouch on the floor. As he unravelled and rose higher, his muscular torso pulsed to the energy from the live drums. Six dancers powerfully expressed idea of growth. While their well-spaced feet rooted them to the earth, their wide eyes resembled an infant’s and their shaky arms reached out as if to take something from the void.

Lawal’s exploration included a look at dance throughout diverse cultures. The company maintains a vital link with African dance but their flex-footed arabesques and weighty rolls evoked contemporary dance and elaborate hand gestures where fingers opened up flowers suggested Kathak’s ‘hastas’.

However, where there is growth and aspiration, there is also decay and degeneration. The third piece, Respite highlighted a frightening truth about all human life. The music discordant; harmony was lost to frenzy. Robbed of their deep focus, the dancers looked down, suggesting blindness and self-absorption. The reaching motif was repeated but this time the dancers were grabbing desperately at the air, but falling; missing it. Uprooted, they moved like puppets: limp-limbed, shaking; this time from madness. This was resolved by Sakoba’s new dawn: a flute played like birdsong, the lights shone sunrise-red and the dancers pulsed their torsos as before showing something of the continuity of life, the presence of hope and energy in the hardest times.

Sakoba Dance Company – Respite (Pegasus Theatre, Friday 6th March 2009)

By Rachel Gildea.

‘How freeing to be able to physicalise all those complicated feelings through dance’ (Jeremy Spafford)

In The Genes showed how the language of dance has the ability to express the complexities of the parent-child relationship which is marked by conflict as well as intense love.

Three duets boldly performed an exploration of the father/son or mother/daughter relationship, uninhibited by the limitations of spoken word.

Jeremy and Joss, Richard and Tom, Cecilia and Emily articulated the theme of who looks after whom in the relationship as time passes. In the first two duets, the failing power of the father was portrayed in an amusing, self-deprecating fashion. Both dads could do little to hide their frailties, suffering from ‘achy knees’ and ‘bad backs’. Jeremy needed the support and relief of a chair while Richard had to be bandaged up and ultimately carried off stage at the end by his son, Tom. Resigning themselves to the vitality of their sons, Richard reflected (in the post-show talk) on this project as a realisation that ‘this is where I hand over’. The rivalry was different with dancer Cecilia and musician Emily as each found their own medium in which to shine side by side.

The final moment of Cecilia drawing a chalk circle on the stage until blackout held lasting significance. Whilst the shape itself symbolised the circle of life and the wholeness and fullness of family love; the tender action of drawing the circle suggested the continuity and constancy of the parent-child bond.

In the Genes (Pegasus Theatre, Saturday 21st February 2009)