The Times dance critic Donald Hutera’s 4-day festival of contemporary dance concludes with an eclectic array of diverse and dynamic performances. The final evening showcases some of the highlights from previous nights of the four-day festival, yet also introduces new works for the audience to experience for the first time in this central Oxford venue.

The show on the mainstage of the Old Fire Station is preluded by informal installation Remember to Remember choreographed by Mara Vivas. As the audience enter the intimate space, they are encouraged by a written sign to “touch, watch, listen, write.” These instructions are somewhat ambiguous, yet the dancers’ (Vivas herself accompanied by My Johansson) perform with an openness that invites spectators to participate. They stare intently at audience members. They pull someone across the space. Vivas hands me a piece of paper and subsequently throws me a book of Spanish poetry. Whilst the purpose of these actions remain unclear, the unrelated nature of the performers’ activities – and also the objects that surround them in the space – invites the audience to become enactive and to forge mental connections between seemingly disparate elements. At one point, Vivas peels tape up from the floor that has been acting as a barrier between her partner at the spectators. This is seemingly metaphorical of breaking the fourth wall, the boundary between audience and performer, and highlights the key success of this work.

Remember to remember is a perfect introduction to the varied program that succeeds it. The performance in the main theatre kicks off with a Dialogue, a charming duet between dancer Cecilia Macfarlane and cellist Jaqueline Johnson. Whilst one often observes work that explores the intrinsic relationship between movement and music, Dialogue is unique in that it instead creates a conversation between the two, the performers not “speaking” simultaneously, but really listening and responding to each other’s artistic, improvisational choices.

Ffin Dance’s first performance of the evening, True is a delightful quartet inspired by medieval music. It appears to have Celtic influences – bagpipes being a key feature of the soundtrack – and at times echoes historic social dances. Sue Lewis’ intricate choreography is extremely impressive, particularly in the way it synchronizes with the music’s rhythmical phrasing, inviting spectators to hear the accompaniment in a different way. The movement itself is also complex and impressive, including acrobatic partner work, elaborate gestures and leg work.

The first half concludes with a lecture from Lorna V’s alter ego Aliki Mbakoyianni – tango star, dance diva and celebrity movement guru. V embodies her character from the minute she enters the stage, so convincingly that many of the audience do not realize that she is acting. Aliki’s speech is meant to explore the significance of dance in our culture, and whilst this topic is not explored in great depth, the performance is endearing and extremely humorous. Standout moments include cultural allusions to Brexit and Boris Johnson, and a motif in which Aliki invites an audience member to practice throwing a shoe at her partner for spending too much time playing the newly released Pokemon Go.

The second half opens with Anja Meinhardt and Roosa Leimu-Brown’s Plasma, a work that investigates a frantic postmodern world. Performers robed in formal work wear rush across the stage to the sounds of mobile phones and notifications, the sound score compelling them to achieve a “new tempo” and to “work faster”. The movement language is militant and robotic, and often creates recognizable images, such as dancers cramped in a stuffy tube carriage, refusing to look at one another. At times it feels as if the thematic intention is sacrificed for physical, choreographic ambitions, however over all Plasma encapsulates the atmosphere of stressful, work driven society.

Ffin’s second contribution to the evening is in the form of Memoir, a duet choreographed by dancers Catrin and Julian Lewis that aims to explore memories of the sea. The nautical inspiration seems to manifest itself in an amorous relationship that is realized whilst on a 1960s seaside holiday, an impression which is greatly influenced by the use of The Kink’s Waterloo Sunset and the projection of both the performers stood naked facing a brick wall. Although it is unclear as to whether this romantic reading is intentional, the piece has an intriguing choreographic structure. The final section repeats previously used, recognizable motifs, which successfully taps into the idea of memories.

Former arts Editor of Time Out – Sarah Kent – concludes the evening with her improvised pontifications through spoken word and movement. Her audible reflections are often humorous, transgressive, and thought provoking. Her contemplations of “nearliness” and “what could have happened” are extremely relatable, and legitimize the importance we place on moments in our lives that may have turned out differently.

Even after only viewing one evening of Women GOLive festival, one can only conclude that it is a platform that defies categorization. Hutera’s selection of contrasting works, incorporating different disciplines makes for an intriguing showcase of talent that has been neglected by the mainstream arts scene. Let us hope that platforms such as this continue to give performance opportunities to deserving artists, so that audiences can be introduced to new and exciting work, as Oxford was on 16th July 2016.

Emily May

20th July 2016

 

 

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