I found Sea of Troubles a tremendously complex piece – and would love to see it again. MacMillan’s grasp on the source text seems to me formidable. Indeed I think that at present my responses to it are only half formed, because it was so definitely not another production of – or even another version of Hamlet – but something very much of itself, an organic being, and generating its own difficulties for the lucky viewer required to grapple with the explorations in which it was engaged.

I was struck even before the piece began by the simplicity of the staging – even in a studio production. It was so effective having just the arras (and through that signalling the significance of what remains hidden and the immanence of an impending Death) because this arras also focused us on the silvery, ghostlike presence of dreams and nightmares: its form insubstantial and suggesting that nothing is solid – but at the same time asserting that all perceptions of the real are rarely right and often lead us astray. (more…)

Another exploratory, innovative and exciting programme of original dance work has just been presented at Oxford’s Old Fire Station Theatre under the aegis of Donald Hutera. Hutera’s remarkable ability to gather together able but neglected choreographic skills and to present them in a continually-changing four-day programme has already been demonstrated at the nearby Burton Taylor Studio. On this latest occasion, however, despite there being no diminution in the range of remarkably distinctive approaches on offer, the overall impact was far more cohesive.

For this three elements seem primarily responsible. The first is the universality of the myth and legend on which much of the work draws; the second is the power – on a bare stage – of the overall visual impact of each of these pieces, and the third is the extraordinary range of emotional intensity evoked by the quality of these performances – drawing chuckles and tears and the long silence of chastened realisation that precedes the best appreciative applause. (more…)

Getting a ticket to a dance programme arouses comfortable expectations of pleasure – of colour, patterning and conformity. In Oxford’s Burton Taylor studio last week, Donald Hutera’s GOlive programme was satisfyingly full of all of these – but it was also never predictable, oddly fragmented and often deeply unsettling. And in my head the after-images are of faces as much as of body shapes – a heat of emotional impact – a sense of hope – a touch of catharsis.

The very ordering of the programme forced strange juxtapositions. It began with what Shane Shambhu described as his “lecture-demonstration” – a cogent dance drama through which his personal narrative wove a coherent thread. Twenty-seven years of bharatanatyam dance gave his work an assured technical underpinning. But it was its immediacy and variety that made it so accessible to academic, pensioner and child in the fifty-strong studio audience. For this was a narrative that flowed by Nritta – by taps and clicks and thumps – through sounds vocal and guttural – as well as by the mime and dance of Natya, the shifting registers of formal delivery, of conversational English, of interactive name games and the musicality of Shane’s native Kerala tongue. Never before have I been more aware of dance as one member of so intimately interconnected a family of languages. (more…)

The marvellous thing about work evolved between artist performers is that nuances and subtleties can be retained throughout the creative process from conception to execution. The intuitions of a collaborative response are unmediated by the blunt words of explanation: rather they flow in endless synergy between the participants, refined by repetition and honed by the urge to communicate in that special medium which is best known to each.

And this, I suspect, is what lay behind Two old instruments, a collaboration between Jonathan Rees on his old-fashioned gamba and Susie Crow with her experienced body. And the result was frankly extraordinary: in its range, its variety and its sustained exploration – through thirteen movements – of manuscript ideas by Carl Friedrich Abel (1723-1787). The manuscript fragments are themselves described in the programme as ‘essentially a set of written out improvisations, formally very free in most cases, with no clues in the manuscript as to a “correct” order for the pieces to be played in, or indeed as to the mood of many of them’.

So what did Rees and Crow improvise around another’s improvisations that made them so peculiarly their own? (more…)