Category Archives: Dance

Review Ballet Black: Heroes, Cassa Pancho, Barbican Theatre by Tanica Psalmist

Cassa Pancho, the founder, Artistic dDirector & CEO of Ballet Black has again showcased raw, passionate and tightly synchronised works, with new choreography by Sophie Laplane and Mthuthzeli November. The first piece on the bill is entitled; About it First, exploring the themes ‘heroism & its complexities’ of everyday people, & everyone’s oblivion, inability & disservice to recognise heroic acts at times. We also witness competitiveness & vanity due to social media’s addictive streak in bringing out others ego in being recognised & acknowledged, as well as non-attempts to be seen and how everyone’s relationship with heroism plays out differently in the ordinary & the extraordinary.

The soundtrack includes music from Ludwig von Beethoven to Michelle Gurevich, with original sections composed by Tom Harold. The ambience throughout each dance set is eclectic & magnetic. The piece delved deeper into the themes; resolution, kindness, community orientation & mutual support, foretelling how heroism can act out in our daily lives. Each cast member’s unique tenacity combined with depth, energy and melody, additionally told a unique, empowering story of the human spirit. With sparkly jackets and other interesting detail to the Ballet Black casts outfits due to costume designer: Jessica Cabassa.

The second piece The Waiting Game‘ offers a different spin of being torn between work-life balance, fine tuning between sanity & reality, navigating through uncertainty, collecting our thoughts & re-building strength, courage, rediscovering purpose and re-gaining hope.

The Waiting Game:

Choreography: Mthuthuzeli November

Music: The Waiting Game (2023) composed by Mthuthuzeli November & Alex Wilson

Lighting Design: David Plater. Original costume designs for 2020 by Peter Todd

Door Design: Richard Bolton & Phil Cristodolou

Review, The Sleeping Beauty, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Sadlers Wells, By Hannah Goslin

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

I am ashamed to admit that my knowledge and version of Sleeping Beauty is entirely from Disney. I’m used to the owl dancing in a coat, an impossible leaning cake (which I want for every birthday, even at 31 turning 32) and the big dragon. So when I came to this production, the storyline following, at times, a different path, it was like a new story for me.

These differences are subtle. But to summarise the story of The Sleeping Beauty in this production: a girl (Aurora) is cursed by an evil fairy, after she isn’t invited to her christening. When she pricks her finger on a spindle, she would fall into a 100 year sleep. And so up until her 16th birthday, all sharp objects are eliminated from the palace. The evil fairy manages to sneak a spindle in and Aurora falls to her fate. Only true loves kiss releases her, where she awakes to a beautiful marriage and guests of fairy-tale royalty.

In this day and age, we are so used to modernisation of tales, of a reinvention of tradition, and often this is refreshing and allows the story to be told in a new way. However, Birmingham Royal Ballet went against this grain and kept it very traditional. And this, in itself, was absolutely refreshing. The opulence of the stage, the set, the costumes was exquisite and gave me a goosebump-ed feeling of the days of old, where audiences dressed up to attend and were part of the elite. The beauty of this, is that, at a very affordable price, anyone could come to this production and get that exact feeling. They get to come and feel special, and that was evident in the eyes of many young children in attendance.

The stage had so many layers to it and rose so high, that we felt as if we were really in a grand European castle or palace, with all the pomp and circumstance, the historical costumes along with the beautiful and decadent tutus, allowing us to not only be transported in time but in place.

Accompanied by a live orchestra, the tradition continued with the accompaniment, but also felt extremely special. There’s something about live orchestral music that makes you shiver with awe and excitement, and the atmosphere it helped to create were effective with the change of the mood of the scene.

The dancing of course was spectacular. Not a foot was wrong and tradition continued to seep through in each member, whether a principal or in the background. The only qualm is that some more technically advanced moves that required balance did not always translate to the dancers face and so the panic and concern of this became evident and made that moment lose its magic somewhat.

The end of the story, we are treated to new characters who attend the wedding. Puss in Boots, The White Cat and Little Red Riding Hood are introduced, providing some giggles and some change of pace. It’s only at the end in the final bow that a few more appear in the guise of a Sultan and another furry creature. This was a little confusing and likely to do with some tradition in the ballet. However, it felt a little out of place and distracted somewhat from the celebration of the cast.

Overall, seeing traditional ballet and in the form of a story I thought I knew, but evidently did not, was magical and special. We were transported in time, in place and into a fairy tale world.

REVIEW, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS AT WALES MILLENNIUM CENTRE CARDIFF BY BARBARA MICHAELS

Ballet, based on original story and film by Tim Burton
Adaptation: Caroline Thompson
Devised and directed by Matthew Bourne
Music; Danny Elfman and Terry Davies

 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

Making a welcome return to Cardiff, Edward Scissorhands is arguably not only the most hauntingly beautiful of Bourne’s innovative and unique productions but the most in depth and soul searching. Brought up to date with new music, the story of a boy that is different and as a result suffers jibes and discrimination, Bourne infuses this new production with an added poignancy cognisant with contemporary mores and awareness of mental health issues.

Based around the central character of a boy with an abnormality which causes him to face problems in the world – a world unknown and alien to him – Edward Scissorhands is complex and far from easy to relate in balletic form, although Bourne can be forgiven for the occasional grunt or shout. Created by an eccentric inventor, Edward is left unfinished with elongated scissors in place of hands when his creator unexpectedly dies, leaving him to face the challenges of an unknow world. As with all Bourne ballets, the dance is an amazing mix of classical and modern plus maximum use of mime, danced with empathy and expertise by Bourne’s New Adventure Company.

On Press night, the lithe and lissom Liam Mower, who back in 2015 first danced the central role of Edward – arguably one of the most difficult roles in Bourne’s diverse repertoire. – brings to the stage a knowledge and perception of the character, targeting the highs and lows of a young man who is desperate to be accepted despite fighting against prejudice and suspicion.

Not only do the principal dancers shine, but the whole of Bourne’s young and enthusiastic New Adventures Company show expertise in the different dance genres, segueing seamlessly from one to the other, under the tuition of New Adventures Take Part Creative Director Kerry Biggin who on opening night in Cardiff, danced the principal female role of Peg Boggs, the young housewife who befriends Edward. Opposite her, Dominic North dances a self-assured Bill Boggs.

Bourne’s choreography, inclusive of both the lifts and Grandes jetés of classical ballet and bang up to date acrobatics of street dance (seen also in Bourne’s ballet The Car Man) is in this respect unique. Lez Brotherston’s atmospheric set designs make an important contribution to the success of this ballet, aided and abetted by Howard Harrison’s atmospheric lighting. Worth noting that Brotherston also designed the great costumes.

Overall, a ballet that with a dark element yet with comic touches throughout that lighten the load. Does Edward overcome the problems of the title? It would be a spoiler to tell!

Britten’s Death in Venice – A Review by Eva Marloes

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

The WNO’s production of Death in Venice by Benjamin Britten is a symphony in black and white with minimal staging, effective choreography, and powerful singing. It’s a beautiful and haunting painting that conveys the internal anguish of the protagonist at the core of Britten’s extraordinary music.

Death in Venice is based on the novella by Thomas Mann, where Gustav von Aschenbach is a famous author who travels to Venice to find inspiration. There, he develops an attraction for an adolescent boy, Tadzio. Disciplined and ascetic in character, Aschenbach is torn between his sensual desire and his detached reason. As his attraction becomes an obsession, Venice is taken over by cholera. His passion makes leaving impossible. A glance from Tadzio makes Aschenbach rise from his chair only to collapse and die.  

Aschenbach’s travel to Venice is as internal as it is physical. The initial confusion of the mind that makes him unable to write is lifted at the sight of Tadzio, whom Aschenbach sees as the embodiment of ancient Greek beauty. Yet, the aesthetic appreciation quickly plunges Aschenbach into an internal conflict between his rational mind and his passion for the boy.

Mark le Brocq as Gustav von Aschenbach. Photo credit Johan Persson.

Olivia Fuchs, who directs this production, weaves together the different elements of music, video, acrobatics, costumes, and song with great efficacy. A black and white video is projected onto the background. It alternates depictions of the sea, at times choppy and at times smooth, Venice almost as a shadow, and Tadzio up close. The most intense moment is when Aschenbach, played by a wonderful Mark Le Brocq, is alone and the scene has nothing but a picture of Tadzio. Throughout the opera, Le Brocq excels in intensity and harrowing beauty. 

Alexander Chance as The Voice of Apollo, Mark le Brocq as Gustav von Aschenbach, and Roderick Williams as The Voice of Dionysus. Photo credit Johan Persson.

Aschenbach’s internal anguish mirrors the Nietzschean theme of the conflict between Apollo, god of reason, and Dionysus, god of passion. The battle between Apollo and Dionysus unfolds musically in the contrast between the countertenor voice of Alexander Chance as Apollo and the deep baritone voice of Roderick Williams as Dionusus. This is heightened by the juxtaposition of Apollo, dressed in a golden suit, and Dionysus, in a red suit, against the black and white background of the chorus, dressed in white when playing the hotel guests, and in black as Venetians. 

Baritone Roderick Williams and countertenor Alexander Chance are equally enthralling. Tadzio has no voice; rather he embodies beauty through movement to a percussion music which Britten developed drawing on Balinese gamelan. The choice of sensual acrobatics performed beautifully by Anthony César of NoFit State Circus, directed by Firenza Guidi, conveys powerfully the Greek idea of beauty. The homoerotic acrobatic duel between Tadzio and another boy, performed by Riccardo Frederico Saggese, is allusive yet restrained. The result is mesmerising. 

On a minor note, the production could have made better use of light design to emphasise Aschenbach’s internal turmoil. Overall, it is one of the best productions the WNO has given us.

Antony César as Tadzio, Riccardo Frederico Saggese as Jaschiu, and the cast of Death in Venice. Photo credit Johann Persson.

Review Lay Down Your Burdens, Rhiannon Faith Company, Barbican Centre by Tanica Psalmist

Lay Down Your Burdens by Rhinannon Faith Company explores themes of judgement, depression, trauma, loss, grief, serious illness and personal suffering.

From immersive to interactive the audience is fully immersed in and around the stage to feel the sensory experiences within the pub atmosphere. As you enter there is a combination of bar stool seating, where you may get a Mocktail or Guinness on the house from the generous landlady, Sarah! however, don’t forget the ”eyes, eyes” before you take your shot!

This production uniquely, contains philosophical, meaningful and enriching messages throughout! Taking you on a surreal adventure of emotional distress, attachment and self neglect. However, there’s ample space made for selected audience members to display appreciation, honesty and deeper insights of gratitude whilst simultaneously magnifying nostalgic memories, articulated poetically from everyone who courageously approached the microphone on stage, which was obliviously looped to create an impressive thread, echoing symbolically towards the end, mystifyingly the shared theme of love; what it takes to love, the simplicity of why we love and our personal lived experiences due to a lack of love.

Lay Down Your Burdens features liberating choreographed physical theatre movements. The ambience of live music played throughout; magnetically paved the way for individual stories and dance sequences to expand on conscious awakening, growth, relationships, chances, self-healing, fulfilment, conviction, vulnerability, infinity, embracement, encounters, barriers, conflict, purpose and hope collectively, fully exalted through the vibration of sound & frequencies.

Each string instrument released the chords of pain, strength, fear, loneliness and intention, as we unlearnt patterns to how we survive & cope to avoid threat, pursue happiness and success. As we repetitively vocalised the statement ‘I carry you & you carry me’, the expression of movement alongside the intrinsic decoding of our natural rhythm and synchronicity, helped to form the basis of human touch, soul connections, love languages, verbal & non verbal communication, highlighting deeper resonances from our past, present and future; infused with the good, the bad & the ugly episodes.

Overall, Lay Down Your Burdens is packed with the right dose of humour, audience participation and experimental play. You can’t help but form authentic bonds, due to the universally related themes and intimacy, whilst getting lost in the moment you will inevitably escape fantasy to touch and dive deep into reality. This show is highly recommended!

Review Songs of Songs, Barbican Centre by Tanica Psalmist

Song of Songs, choreographed by Pam Tanowitz collaborates with composer David Lang, The production is inspired by an exploration of Jewish dance history, establishing two worlds of surrealism and transparency to create an equilibrium of openness and realness. Produced by Caleb Hammons and Jason Collins to infuse the notion of life, beauty, magic, compassion and human connectivity within the association of life in a divine interlinked extract of percussion music, poetry and movement that liberates ancient rituals of sincerity, dignity and agape.  

Song of Songs as a biblical poem of yearning, magnetically and majestically astral travelling the audience into an invigorating journey diving into tangible elements of experiences within the physical realm, within the real world.    

In this production, the instinctive essence of New York-based Tanowitz beautifully expands on classical dance using metaphorical distinctive language to examine chapters of complexity and freedom simultaneously. The empowerment was deeply engrained through delicate lifts, light head turns, soft dim lights overhead spins and captivating gentle touch, eye glances over poetical sounds and sacred tradition.

Review Moss, Barbican Centre by Tanica Psalmist

MOS, presented by Barbican and Dance Umbrella, choreographed by Ioanna Paraskevopoulou, playfully explored the relationship between sound and movement in bewitching different ways. Featuring multimedia & pumping vigorous, upbeat looping sounds filtered into the space; accompanied by surrounding plungers, steel bins, a mini wooden door, forest leaves and twigs, tap dancing shoes, roller-skates, a basketball, sticks, sand trays & many more intriguing objects across the entire stage.

Each rehearsed & choreographed expression of sound and movement was perfectly synchronised to the tuned out media, tightly reflective of gestures played out by the actors who hypnotically worked in duality to devise repetition and rhythm to outlet electrifying energy to stimulate our gaze & catch our attention throughout. The visual imagery was acted out by the actors using various sounds from each object in a vibrant way, which allowed the mind to ignite imagination, as the actors enthusiastically watched each action acted out by mimicking the storytelling narratives from the screen, creating an intimate reality to watch the screen and occasionally observe the motion on the stage simultaneously, as we immersed into two separate worlds, consisting of animated expression blended in with real time sound effects and dance, very impressive to watch!

MOS, is an exciting fusion of humour and poetical metaphors through expansive movements and sound. This production ended with tap dancing moves, grooves & of course; sound, looped over & over through potent vibrations and high frequencies, which circulated non-stop energy, passion, innovation and creativity; until they both yearned for the essence of silence, naked quietness, appreciation of soundless motion to alter the ambience and atmosphere; which left us finding the beauty, thriller and adventure, getting lost in radio waves, echos and muffled noise. In and out volumes & subtitles highlighted the themes; in-figurative souls, delicacy, enchantment, discrete, frightened, petrified and unapologetic incentives as we moved in-between different effects, genuine expression and fluid energy.

Review: Marina Abramović: A Visual Biography & Institute Takeover, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, By Hannah Goslin

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Arguably, Marina Abramović is one of the most influential and incredible Performance Artists of all time. Her methods of challenging the body, of challenging the social norm, of breaking boundaries and being raw and in your face has transformed much of the performance landscape over the past 50 years and inspired many an artist, including myself.

Abramović is everywhere in London at the moment. Not only with her new book launch, A Visual Biography and her Institute Takeover, both at the Southbank Centre, she is also taking the Royal Academy by storm as the first solo woman performer in their main space and with an opera, 7 Deaths of Maria Callas at the English National Opera. For a woman who was literally on death’s door only a couple of months ago, at 76, Abramović is still pushing boundaries and her body to extremes for art. And us number one fans are happy she still is.

After her memoir in 2016, A Walk Through Walls, telling the story of her life in Belgrade and her art across the world, you wouldn’t think there was much more for her to tell us about. This raw and personal memoir seemed to feature it all, her life, her feelings, her failures, her successes. But in this new book, A Visual Biography, she has teamed up with arts and fiction writer, Katya Tylevich, to delve into her aeroplane hangers full of memorabilia of her life to bring new stories, new insights and plenty of memories.

With both Abramović and Tylevich on stage, this book release felt a lot more casual and free than I remember A Walk Through Walls launch to be. Abramović seemed relaxed, she made us laugh constantly and her stories and anecdotes were mesmerising. There was something changed in her, possibly with a near death experience recently, A Visual Biography seems more a celebration of who Marina is and less about how her work came to be. While her first memoir featured much about her family, she now tells us more of those moments you remember from your childhood. At the time, many seem like terrifying scenarios but certainly ones to be appreciated and laughed at now.

Abramović is hugely engaging and an hour and half did not seem enough to listen to her. She is captivating in her own right, without her magnificent art, with a life full of unique experiences and humbleness.

Following from this, Abramović and the Abramović Institute have taken over the Queen Elizabeth Hall, from front of house to the backstage and areas likely unseen by most of the public. Using the Abramović method, the artists are encouraged to present long duration work over several hours across a number of spaces, allowing the audience to self-lead their experience. Marina herself is not performing, but there’s enough essence of her in each performance to not feel at all cheated.

This was opening night and therefore, taking into account any problems with this. It seemed that much was delayed, from the opening of the venue itself to some of the works. Once you were in, you could see lots in the foyer but the knowledge there is more behind the scenes that you couldn’t quite yet access yet was tantalising but also confusing at times. Once everything opened up, the freedom to roam felt enjoyable and clear, with signs noting spaces and doors you couldn’t enter. It felt like a little treasure hunt throughout the building.

As time went by, the crowds increased and there were many smaller performances in tiny spaces that developed long queues. All performances are well worth the wait but you need to be prepared that some may need a wait. As they are durational, there are a number that change as time goes on, and so instead of doing a once round, always take the journey around a few times as it is ever changing.

Performances ranged from almost no movement, to abusive and loud anarchy, to continual movement pieces. There was something for everyone, including interaction from potato peeling to unusual yet childlike chats with a group of clones. Each art and artist has created something unique and perpetrating to their lives and what they wanted to convey and each was fascinating on their own and in comparison as you crossed from one to the other.

Audiences are almost forced in close quarters at times with one another, and there’s a almost meta sense of freedom to roam but at the same time, being confined closely with strangers. It is an extraordinary exhibition that we wouldn’t have dreamed of having in 2020 during a pandemic.

The sheer determination and strength of the performers, their bodies and concepts are incredible. Not one looked bored. Not one looked as if they were not fully in their space and performance. And this is what is awe inspiring and incredible. One performer spends the entire performance, melting a block of ice with their own bare body… when you think how you feel holding an ice cube for a short time, this on a larger scale without any break in character is impressive and thought provoking. Abramović notes in her book launch that a fit and almost dancer body is needed for her type of work – to sit still or move slowly/hold a position for a long time is actually painful and an experience little of us ever have or will have. We are used to moving when uncomfortable, but this is often not an option in these scenarios.

Marina Abramović Institute Takeover is an immersive, performance art exhibition and experience unlike any other. It is the height of contemporary art and each piece is unlike anything seen before. You may not be seeing Marina herself perform, but the heart of her influence and method is abundant in each performance, while leaving room for the artist to be their own.

Review, Eun-Me Ahn’s Dragons, Barbican Centre, London by James Ellis

Photo credit: Sukmu Yun

 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

In my first dance piece seen at the Barbican Theatre, we had a brief yet envigouring stint. Choreographer Eun-Me Ahn has taken under her wing emerging dancers from all over Asia. It’s very humbling and touching to see her support for artists who are at the starting point of their careers, their talents taken flight both in tour and nationally.

Though the show about halfway through halts to introduce some of the dancers (name, country of origin and why choose dance?), we get to know them a bit better, breaking down assumed barriers. Other dancers on screens appear blurred and compressed, though we would later realise that these were the ones who could not make it, Covid playing it’s part to dampen ambition.

The work itself started off strong, strange and wonderful usage of grey ventilation ducting. These might just be our dragons in question, no? These pipes are treated with a fluid creativity, a total highlight. They adorn costumes, make speakers for a makeshift stereo, they cover the stage from floor to rafters and evoke much rope play. The dances meld somewhere between traditional and the experimental. The humour shone through for many smile evoking moments, usually from Ahn herself or a colourful costume wowing in absurd styling.

The heavy use of screens for the moments without absent dancers had less charm. At times, lucious, in other moments it remained a bit tacky. Some underwater scenes were eye candy and some of the effects fusing live dancer and the imagery on screen could work. The show was a little too long, I think it could have been a solid hour. A queer vain glided through as well, something I lapped up with cross dressing and those glorious, golden shortS which I’ll never forget.

The dances may have been mixed with glides, near performance art, returns to traditional elements of the art and whacky contemporary elements. It might not have always glued together, but it is very sweet to see talented artists flourishing in their prime. Consider me a fan.

Dragons continues to The Lowry, Salford. 

Review ‘Dragons’ Eun-Me Ahn Company, Barbican by Tanica Psalmist

Pioneering South Korean choreographer Eun-Me Ahn, premiere’s the exquisite production Dragons. Witnessing ‘Dragons’ is a fusion of both traditional and modern dance styles, centred around music and non-stop movement infusing culture, rhythm and poetical essence from across Asia, which connects the young with the elders, where they both come to terms with the concepts, changes to embrace the vitality of an inter-connected world that calls for adaption, simplicity and interpersonal growth to with an inevitable changing & circulating universe, world & dimension. 

The feature of holograms throughout Dragons gives this production a special, diverse energy into the captivating space created by the Avantgarde choreographer Eun-Me Ahn’s latest kaleidoscopic production, which exhibited an empowering execution from her extraordinary company of flexibly enchanting dancers, who individually interacted on stage with holograms of five inspiring young performers from Malaysia, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and Taiwan.

Education, warmth, freedom, water & all the in-between to reflect expression, movement, liberation, originality takes formulation of movement, touch, physicality and sensuality, sprung culture, solidarity and global unification. The vibrancy of colour whether through the clothing, traditional outfits, holograms and or significant lighting cinematic effect; brought the space alive and told a story of beauty, love, passion, progression, soul purpose, magnitude, togetherness, hope, future endeavours, vulnerability & success.

Above-all, Dragons is a fantastic way to absorb the power of Asian past and present culture, whilst bringing about a collective form of magnet impulsivity and grip of focused gratitude and feeling of emotions, service and the ability to feel music, contemporary and hip hop dance, alongside traditional dance movement in a non-unapologetic and self accepting way.