British Dance Edition 2010

Feature in Issue 22-2 | Summer 2010

Lisa Wolfe gets down on the dancefloor.

Over the two days of my visit to the UK dance world’s biennial showcase event British Dance Edition (which was oversubscribed, resulting in some difficulties in obtaining tickets to shows – frustrating, but it confirms a need for the event), the performances I see coalesce into certain themes:

The effects of war / political struggle

Eddie Ladd sets The Bobby Sands Memorial Race on a running track. It’s a strong visual metaphor, with resonance beyond the specific story being told here. We may be born into a certain faction or faith. We may find we have no choice but to stick with it, or lack the strength to break away. Bobby Sands (the Irish hunger striker who was also, apparently a keen runner – making the metaphor even more appropriate) was on such a track: he had no option but to keep to his lane. Eddie Ladd is magnificent. She has presence, confidence, maturity. The choreography fits the narrative with strong, defined movements and with grace. Eddie uses the machinery well, exhausting it as a resource and exhausting herself. We can forgive her running round in a circle at the start, and some over-literal interpretive moves: this is a very fine piece of dance-theatre.

ACE Dance and Music is a multicultural Birmingham-based company presenting a piece for an ensemble of six, called Listen. It’s hard not to, as the music is thumpingly loud and relentless. The choreography, by Gail Parmel and Douglas Thorpe, is similarly brazen and leaves little space for the imagination. The theme is modern-day war and its effects on the psyche. The dancers are fantastically well drilled, tough young things giving 100%. but young dancers being soldiers on a stage, in woolly socks, their spoken voices high and light, just doesn’t ring true. I applaud their effort rather than the piece.

Men

dx Productions shows snippets of its reworked 2006 popular hit The 5 Man Show. It comprises three pieces, of which Arthur Pita’s …And Then Gone is the most diverting, the men in rat-pack mode seamlessly switching style and mood. Looks like it could be fun in full. The second piece, David Massingham’s With The Company We Keep, is fluid and elegant but too conventional for my taste. Liam Steel’s Crazy Gary is fast and furious with lots of his trademark holds and flings. Apparently it has a good disco scene in the full version. Everyone loves disco don’t they? Or don’t they? What, though, is this trilogy saying about men – their relationships to each other, their physicality, their machismo – and of course their tenderness underneath it all? Anything new? They are wiry, fit men throwing each other around and stripping for their audience’s provocation, ironically of course. They get a big cheer. A voice behind me says, ‘that’s very accessible’. She seems happy with that.

Company Chameleon cover similar ground in Rites. Their choreography has some real spark of originality and they inhabit their roles convincingly, from child to father, teenagers to brothers-in-arms. This is their first major work together and it’s a promising start. They just need to find a more challenging story.

Inspirational dead people

Just as Liz Aggiss pays homage to her favourite dance innovators in Survival Tactics, Simon Ellis in Gertrude is equally fascinated and inspired by dead choreographers. He performs an imagined conversation between Austrian Gertrude Bodenwieser and himself. It’s electrifying and funny. The text is knifesharp ‘It’s all so ugly,’ she says in voice-over, as Ellis wrestles with some obscure dance sequence. ‘Your solitude will engulf you… dancing will not help.’ Grainy images are screened which hint at places and people, misdirecting us. Rachmaninov is played, the choreography becomes more bizarre – is it hers, or his? This is an elegant, conceptual piece, part of a collaborative trilogy called Conversations with the Dead. It has come about through an intense research process and through intelligent construction. More please.

Fun

Topshot by Thomas Hall and Mark Parry at the Electric Cinema gives me the chance to move about in a personal spotlight, enhanced by a chorus-line of projected dancers. There are many different styles and formats I can join with and it’s fun for a while. The soundtrack is limited though, and it’s a bit weird only seeing the top of my head. Lying on the floor works if you want to do some beat-boxing.

Funny Bones gives us all a shower with DanSense, choreographed by Enrique Cabrera. Sat around the four sides of a blue plastic sheet, we’re gently requested to lift the sheet and make small waves, and three dancers emerge from under it in various guises, until one turns the sheet into a dress, does a lovely twirl and walks off, her long blue trail following, a beautiful moment. Then come costumes of percussive plastic spoons, some duets and trios that fill the space and finally big blue water buckets emptied for splashing and sliding on the watery floor. It is great to be entertained and included and not patronised (assuming I’m the target age of about six). Audiences must love this; theatre managers may need persuading.

And finally…

… the big show at the end. No, not our disco dancing at the end of fest party, marvellous though it was! Russell Maliphant and CobosMika Company at the Birmingham Hippodrome showed a triple bill to preview their upcoming tour. Two x Two is a duet; Anna Williams and Daniel Proietto on lit squares, she upstage, he down. They dance in isolation but are connected by their movement: reaching, graceful, exact. The lighting, by long-term collaborator Michael Hulls, is extraordinary, pin-pointing single limbs. The choreography builds to Teshigawara speed with arms twirling, flickering the white light about. At ten minutes long it is a real delight. Choice seems over-long in comparison and less original. Five dancers in what seems to be an extended contact-improvisation session – which it isn’t, although the rolling, joining, lifting and athleticism give it that impression. The final piece is a stunner. AfterLight Part 1, a solo by Daniel Proietto, commissioned by Sadler’s Wells for its In the Spirit of Diaghilev season, does summon a spirit. Danced to Erik Satie, it has that effortless, smooth fluidity that characterises Maliphant at his best. Proietto is mesmerizing. It’s dance that makes me want to dance, and for me that’s the best critique of all. Not sure about the sports top though.

In summary, I think many delegates, national and international, will have found good work here that they can present, or new companies to keep an eye on. But there was a lot of work-in-progress which might not be enough to convince, and there was a definite lack of challenge, or intellectual rigour, or refreshing ideas, within much of the work I saw – though admittedly I only saw a small part of the enormous amount of work presented at this four-day event.

British Dance Edition is a biennial curated programme of performances, events, presentations and debate to showcase the British dance scene and provide a snapshot of the industry. The 2010 edition took place in Birmingham, 3–6 February. www.bde2010.co.uk

Further reviews from BDE can be found at the Total Theatre website www.totaltheatre.org.uk