Tag Archives: dance

What If I Told You, Royal Exchange

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Image: West Yorkshire Playhouse website

What If I Told You by Pauline Mayers

Royal Exchange, Manchester [19.06.17]

Enter the empty space. Leave your belongings beside the wall – you will not be needing them. Form a circle. There’s something quite wholesome about it. And your evening has begun.

Pauline Mayers’ What If I Told You (WIITY) is an exploration of life as a black woman in the performance world and beyond, delivered through storytelling, movement and tableux. This immersive experience places the audience within Pauline’s story but also allows us to revisit our own life experiences. This is a work that focuses on each of us being present, a necessary component of having access to the many truths of the piece.

Pauline invites us to play, embrace one another, see each other and hear her truth. WIITY is a historical playground that illustrates the bullying and abusing of black women’s bodies through time. We are exposed to the harsh truths of experiments conducted on black women by Dr J. Marion Sims in the name of gynaecology and told the names of three of the black women he experimented on: Anarcha, Betsy and Lucy. This alongside the flooding of ‘Black Lives Matter’ chanting, highlights the true war that has been and still is upon black bodies in the Western world. Pauline invites us into a space that contains black pain but she does not turn this into a spectacle. She acknowledges these experiences with a truthfulness and encourages us to reflect on how and why these events are occurring.

These narratives are weaved into Pauline’s personal experiences. She tells us of her journey from childhood to girlhood to adulthood. When she describes her audition for the Rambert School, she talks of how she has the shortest legs of all of the girls in the room. And for a moment, this brings up a memory I have from modelling. I remember being stood in a room with nine other girls who’s legs basically went up to my shoulders. And then I remember, the dodgy comments made about my thighs, nose and lips.

Back in the room and I feel even more connected to Pauline. This is likely in part due to the conversation we had over the phone where we discussed the way in which black women’s bodies are othered in theatre and the wider world. But it is also in part due to Pauline having the incredible ability to blur the edges between the theatrical play space she has created and the world outside of the studio.

Listening to Pauline’s journey through the arts world has given me hope. Her story is one that young black women should experience. It is unfortunately not often that you find a black woman in a space telling her story, talking about the challenges of her journey and absolutely smashing it. This is exactly what we need more of.

This piece ends with the audience being present and moving across the space and engaging with each other via a look or an embrace. At this point, I will admit I became quite disengaged. For me, physical contact is something to only be shared with those I am close to. I initially felt unsettled watching people hug each other and spent the next day questioning why that was. I do not have a conclusion yet but, I know this was a unique moment in which people were able to just be, together.

Verdict: What If I Told You is wonderful piece of storytelling that allows us to step into Pauline’s shoes and those of black women in history. Through measured physicality and emotive and engaging storytelling, we are able to truly be present with Pauline and explore our own narratives alongside hers. Go see it at Edinburgh Fringe this summer!

 

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Interview: Pauline Mayers on…

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Image: West Yorkshire Playhouse Website

It’s Monday morning.

This time last week, I had a conversation with Pauline Mayers about her currently touring show What If I Told You, perceptions of black women’s bodies in arts spaces and the wider world and, what it’s like being a person of colour in a white dominated industry.

Pauline on… art and defining herself as an artist

I define art as a means of being able to see the world in a different way, to explore the world through a different door, a different approach to life, different places and different times.

Pauline highlighted how art provides the space for you to express yourself in a way that you cannot in other spheres. It creates more avenues and connections, with the self and the wider world.

Regarding defining oneself as an artist, Pauline does not place herself in a box. She is a lover of reading, research, finding things out; she loves to evolve. Pauline describes herself as a risk taker, agent provocateur and artistic revolutionist.

 

Pauline on…working as a black woman in theatre and dance

Pauline has danced for many years all over the world  – she always wanted to express herself. She described the ongoing commentary on her black body and stressed what appears to be the obvious in that, we all have bodies. Change needs to come surrounding perceptions of black bodies in space but we are not yet at that point. The same goes for listening to black narratives, Pauline spoke of the disbelief in her experiences that occurs within theatre spaces and how audiences doubt her truth because it is not within their repetoire of experiences. Pauline owns her story when she shares it in a performance space because it is her truth. It is unfortunate that POC do not get to own performance spaces often.

She shared her refusal to perform for Black History Month and her disappointment at the last minute nature of programming for this month and Black theatre seasons.

We also touched the importance of being able to see yourself reflected in the theatre, especially as it is such a white dominated space and that a change needs to come. Pauline mentioned her participation in Eclipse’s SLATE Project. She described how the focus on process was something she had not experienced in a long time and how such experiences are rarely available for artists of colour.

Pauline on… the experience of POC in theatre and beyond

POC are rarely listened to, when discussing their experiences there is always a caveat of ‘oh yes, but…’ and never a moment of ‘I hear you’. Pauline who has trained as a counselor highlights that POC are less likely to participate in Talking Therapies and that comes from not being able to speak their truth and always being challenged. Their psychological injuries are sidelined.

Pauline on…POC as emerging artists 

Pauline described an experience she had when presenting a piece of work and an onlooker expressed surprise that her piece was so well rounded. Having huge amounts of experience, after 30 years in the business it should look professional, Pauline exclaims.

POC are brilliant at doing many things at the same time. However, POC are too frequently boxed off as emerging artists, which creates two problems: a stagnation of progression and POC all competing with each other for a platform. Why are we all fighting for one space? Why are we having to take someone out in order to have artistic space?

Whilst opportunities are few and far between, we then face the battle of longevity and siustainability. Pauline states that theatres need to be talking to artists and finding out what they wantUnemployment is a huge issue for artists of colour – where are the sustained work opportunities?

Pauline on…What If I Told You and what’s next

What If I Told You is a calling card,  a reminder that she cannot give up on this artist thing. It’s a part of her DNA. Within this she highlights the importance of accepting the lows but focusing into the work and how this allows you to settle into your calling. She believes it is essential that we spend more time with ourselves and reflect on what it is to be human. By doing such reflections, she wonders if the world would be less divided.

She intends to continue creating work and building the Mayers Ensemble. Alongside this, she would like to continue working collaboratively and venture into directing.

 

What If I Told You is on at the Royal Exchange on Tuesday 20th June and then moves to Edinburgh Fringe, performing between 11-26th August.

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Review: The Toad Knew, The Lowry

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Photo Richard Haughton

The Toad Knew by James Thierrée’s Compagnie du Hanneton

The Lowry, Salford [10.05.17]

A woman draped in a red cape crosses the stage singing. We hear the strike of a match and see an amber glow in her hood. She melts into the stage curtain of matching velvety fabric and then it is peeled away to reveal the residency of the moment that is about to unfold.

The Toad Knew could be a story. It could be a play. It could be a dance. But it is most certainly a moment. A moment in a space that resembles a room that one could only imagine finding down the rabbit hole. Except this is no rabbit hole. Despite having a bizarre essence of Alice in Wonderland about it, The Toad Knew has a peculiarity all of its own that comes in part from its onlookers. Everything from the rotating staircase to the pond in the tank to the flacks of dusty carpet derive part of their meaning from you. As the experiencer, you paint part of the meaning into this spectacle and that’s part of what makes it so unique and beautiful.

Tonight, I watched a piece of theatre swallow itself over and over again. What started as a levitating space age swamp filled with galactic kites soon grows into a home of sorts. Its inhabitants whilst on the surface appear rather unusual, on closer examination are a physical manifestation of feelings we have lived and a multitude of versions of ourselves and those around us. We observe the relationships between these unnamed characters and through their physicality and personal quirks, they are able to speak volumes that surpass that surpass the limits of the English language. There is nothing concrete here. All interactions are fluid and a relationship that could be perceived as father-daughter, brother-sister, lovers can exist as all of these things and none of them simultaneously.

Nothing in the world that we have been invited into is fixed. Water still trickles, sawdust still falls, girls still float in water temporarily and lights still shine bright. Among compulsive gyrations, a piano that plays itself whenever there is an ‘elephant in the room’ sensation and an array of prosthetic limbs and wigs, we are sent on a journey filled with revelation that is quiet by nature. This is not the place for Eurekas and soul searching. It is the place for being in the moment and knowing that it’s okay to relive your memories and decipher your dreams in a room filled with other people. It’s also okay to not know what is happening because you feel that there’s a universal correct way to look at this moment that we’re all participating in. What you can know for sure is that whatever you feel about it is not wrong.

The Toad Knew is a reaction, a unity and a change that prompts us to reflect on our commitments in this moment and externally. Repetition and precision in intriguing movements encourage us to engage in a habitual pursuit of a story that doesn’t have a beginning, a middle or an end. Instead, we are left trinkets of may have been and what could be: sleep disturbance, being held back and wanting to do the right thing. And we’ve all had the feeling of not wanting to let someone go that is truthfully conveyed to the sound of These Arms Of Mine.

Three pairs of arms carried silverware and one body danced under foiled shackles that dazzled and humoured the light. It is hard not to write about this moment in a poetic manner given that it defied the parameters of prose and made its physicality audible. As soon as stacks of silverware were balanced, they soon littered the floor. In the onstage frenzy to pick them up and toss them aimlessly into the tank/pond, we are reminded that there is an unspoken urgency to ‘get your shit together’ – no matter the space or time. But this doesn’t mean you need to do it right now and you certainly don’t need to brush your desires under the carpet in order to do so.

To end this moment, the toad appears in all its white, evocative glory and devours each of our characters whole. One by one. Time still turns and ticks and flows. But, our moment is soon to pass. The Toad tells us of the thoughts that she cannot keep track of, for there are so many. Each of these moments that lived in and devoured each other are not easily described in words. They are not concrete. But these characters, their acts, their journeys, their habits – they are all thoughts. Thoughts that we’ve all had in different manners and different contexts.

Verdict: The Toad Knew is an exquisite and unique moment trapped in a kaleidoscope and admired under the gaze of an honest and personal magnifying glass. Somewhat disturbed but hilariously peculiar, this is a compelling and captivating piece of theatre that reminds us that it’s not about the conclusion, but the journey that you take to get there and the meaning that you derive along the way. A stunningly original moment that we would all benefit from experiencing.

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Review: MK Ultra, HOME

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MK Ultra by Rosie Kay Dance Company

HOME, Manchester [04.05.17]

This Is Fake Theatre.

Welcome to MK Ultra – a physical embodiment and exploration of the 1950’s LSD mind control experiments conducted by the CIA and a window into the intertwined affair of pop culture and the illuminati.

Our evening begins with a film projection within the shape of an equilateral triangle and escorts us back to 1957. Two men are arguing in a bowling alley about the order and chaos of the world and conclude that the world needs a new way, a new religion so that everyone can think for themselves. However when this movement takes off, just like all freedom movements, demands for and the seeking of power escalate. Cue Operation Mind Fuck – with support from a couple of Playboy Bunnies and a lilac animated bunny. And let the games begin.

From here on in, we observe as seven dancers express the compulsions and attempts to resist the declarations of the ‘norm’ – whatever that even is. Are each of their movements their own planned decisions or are they moving like this because pop culture subtly told them to? This high energy, acrobatic performance is perfectly fluid and each movement is clean and controlled. The use of levels takes us on a visual roller-coaster of incredible stunts and tableaux that reel the audience in. Welcome to Operation Mind Fuck.

With a palette of trippy, ecstatic colours and a reel of projections ranging from Alice in Wonderland animations to Marilyn Monroe, Rosie Kay Dance Company have successfully created a piece of dance theatre that really challenges us an audience and forces us to question everything we think and feel about this performance and the world beyond the one it has created. Cosmic purple flowers blooming, Mickey Mouse conducting an invisible orchestra and Dorothy’s red slippers clicking repeatedly are just a handful of the images that lay imbedded in your mind. And all of this against a mashed up soundtrack of Chaka Khan, Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, takes us into a blended confusion that it is still quite hard to process. MK Ultra is so distinct and dedicated to its exploration that it had me constantly trying to work out what I was listening to and seeing. At points, I was sure that I could here Narayan by The Prodigy, Toni Basil’ Hey Mickey and Wake Up by Hilary Duff – though I’m pretty sure the latter was in my head, imposed by the overt Disney references, colour charged cityscape projections and hypnotising floor sequence. You know these triangular messages are truly messing with your mind when you’ve got Hilary Duff going round and round in your head… Wake up, wake up on a Saturday night, could be New York, maybe Hollywood and Vine, London, Paris maybe Tokyo, there’s something going on anywhere I go… Yes, there was certainly something going on here…

MK Ultra is nothing short of incredible. I like to be confused and moved from my comfort zone in the theatre and this successfully did that. I am currently in a state of ‘what on earth happened to me last night?’ and have been listening to DJ Rashad’s Twitter to try to counteract this. But, maybe that’s what they want me to do… Welcome to Operation Mind Fuck.

Verdict: A trip the light fantastic level of weird and confusing – absolutely phenomal piece of dance. Would highly recommend.

 

 

 

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Review: Casanova, The Lowry

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Photo: Guy Farrow, Emma Kauldhar, Caroline Holden, Justin Slee

Casanova by Northern Ballet & Kenneth Tindall

The Lowry, Salford [03.05.17]

Opulent smoke and a procession of six figures travel with intent across the stage, surrounded by three towering ornate pillars. Then, six hooded men appear and engage in energised and powerful physicality that has you leaning in just to be ever more captivated by a sweeping array of small intricate to grand dominating movements. This ensemble give us a flavour of the beauty that is to unfold before us.

Casanova has become the social pseudonym of the womanisers and sex addicts of the modern world. But, Northern Ballet’s Casanova crafted by Kenneth Tindall invites us to take a look through a magnifying glass at an intricate and captivating narrative of the man behind the debauchery. This elegant, full length work inspired by Casanova’s memoirs explores the power, anguish, knowledge and of course, sex that dominated his many lives and delivers a vulnerable unveiling of who the real Casanova was.

On a mesmerising journey from Venice to Versailles, we see Casanova’s many versions of himself as an alchemist, violinist, writer and cleric. Among these pursuits, we see him tempt and be tempted by an array of women and take a particular fancy to a woman who has disguised herself as a man. This one is different. This becomes less about sex and more about passion and feeling.

The ensemble move with intent, diligence and passion, leaving it near impossible for you to take in everything that is happening simultaneously. The movements are captivating and give onlookers a true appreciation for the potential and possibilities of the human body. Each element is flawless in its execution and every dancer gives a distinct emotional performance to depict their character. Tableaux and trio performances convey ritualistic and sexual intent with both a tasteful and truthful aesthetic.

Christopher Oram’s awe-inspiring costume design transport us to the 1700’s in a spectacular masquerade of exquisite fabrics and silhouettes. The moving nature of the set allows us to journey with Casanova to his differing residencies and gives this tale a natural meander. But, it is the three pillars illuminated by Alastair West’s lighting design that really take this production from the Lyric Theatre stage to an entire world of its own. We see the dancers reflections on the speckled mirrored panes and the fluidity of their movements paints the most beautiful caricatures onto these panels. It is this haze of colours alongside this passionate tale that truly take us into the realm of Giacomo Casanova.

Verdict: Words cannot do this stunning production justice: this is a dance to be seen and experienced. Truly exceptional.

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Review: Turn, Contact

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Image: Holly Rush

Turn: a micro-festival of North West dance

Contact, Manchester [28.04.17]

This review covers: Origami by Kapow Dance, Madre by Peter Groom Dance Theatre, Saiserit by Giorgio de Carolis, The Album of Love by Ane Iselin Brogeland, Periodo Blu by Matrafisc Dance, What’s Mine Is Yours by Coalesce Dance and INFAMY by The inFamous Five.

Three spaces continually evolving in response to the bodies within them that become rhythmic story books in the presence of both song and silence. Turn brings new work to the table created and performed by dancers from the North West of England. In its ninth year, the festival featured 12 new works (a number of which running simultaneously due to space capacity and then repeating at the end of the night).

The evening began in space 1, opened by Eithne Kane of Kapow Dance. Origami was a piece true to its name. Kane’s body folded , creased, turned, rolled and held shape in this bold articulation of what bodies are capable of being and communicating.

This was then followed by Peter Groom’s striking performance of Madre. A piece of dance theatre that gave us Paris Je T’aime meets the Wizard of Oz meets meets Marilyn Monroe and so much more. Peter walks out on to the stage with a nude stocking over his head, a plain t-shirt, boxers and red heels. Moving from strolling to symphonic signing, Peter takes us on a journey of lamenting what may or may not have been. We become part of this journey as he beckons us to come to the stage but, his offer is silently declined. This piece was filled with humour and passion and blurred the lines between dance, theatre and live art. An exceptional offering to start off the night.

At this point, the audience were split in two – one half went to see the following shorter pieces in space 5 (which I did not see): Only Speak When Spoken To by Meraki Collective, The Intersection Series by Jo Cork, The Visitor by Born + Bred Theatre Dance and A Film with Hope by Grace Surman & Clare Dearnaley. In space 2, two longer pieces were presented to the audience: Saiserit by Giorgio de Carolis and The Album of Love by Ane Iselin Brogeland.

Saiserit is a simplistic yet captivating piece of dance – repeated phrases delivered with precision and emotion lead us on a journey that pursues both knowledge and denial simultaneously. The relationship between Giorgio, a small black box and a mirror encourage us to reflect on ourselves. We watch him conceal his face with the box, pursue it and gaze into the mirror with his back to us. It is only half way through this piece that music is played. And in recognition of that change, it is apparent that this piece is very special. It can live in silence yet give us a wholly meaningful sensory experience. It makes us reflect on how much we really know and how much we are both knowingly and unknowingly ignorant of.

The Album of Love by Ane Iselin Brogeland followed and delivered what I can only begin to describe as the most poignant moment of the night. The piece I Want To Know What Love Is by Foreigner, Sexual Healing by Lionel Richie and a voice-over that talks of love: love is an act of surrender. Throughout this piece, Ane surrenders her self to the audience, the movement and to herself, all in an exploration of the states and expressions of love that can be experienced. She expresses the struggles and suffocations that we have all felt at some point. But the real power of this piece is in the shaking and the breathing – open to interpretation but nonetheless, relateable. By far, the gem of the night.

Following an interval to two audience halves were brought back to space 1 to watch the final three pieces (before being given directions to watch pieces they hadn’t opted for earlier). Two duets and a group piece graced the stage. Matrafisc Dance offered us a couple – one trapped in the past and one day dreaming of the future – each trying their hardest not to lose their head (their polystyrene one, quite literally). We observe their individual torment but longing to exist in the same space. The synchronisation of the performers, Antonello Apicella and Ina Colizza, was completely flawless and beautiful to watch. A relationship of equal beauty could be found in Coalesce Dance’s What’s Mine Is Yours? Anna Papatheodorou and Fern Maia gave a subtle yet thought provoking performance exploring how female strength can fight back against harassment. This was the sort of dance that was nice to watch at the time but it’s underlying message really hit home upon leaving theatre and has stayed with me all day. A good example of how we can use dance as activism.

And lastly, The inFamous Five took to the stage to perform Infamy – a comical yet serious look at a world that chose both Brexit and Trump …and how this world observes the women that reside in it. A great soundtrack, incredible facial expressions and a poke straight in the eye of politics. Raise your teacups and applaud.

On leaving the theatre, I reflected on what I had seen and how it made me feel. And then, I remembered that Akeim Toussaint Buck was unable to perform due to illness – he is one of the artists who drew my attention to Turn. However, I was also thinking about the lack of dancers of colour in the festival and wondering why this was the case. All of the organisations involved actively work with artists of colour, so I was surprised and a little confused at this. But, I guess the way to change that is to shout about Turn and encourage dancers of colour to apply and bring their offerings to the table. Turn is a fantastic platform and bringing more artists of colour to this platform can only build upon its unique offering.

Verdict: On the whole, Turn has been one of the highlights of my arts calendar so far this year. It has delivered new, innovative, relateable and meaningful dance theatre from a strong mix of northern talent. It is the sort of event that you go and shout about.

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Review: Not Today’s Yesterday, The Lowry

Not Today's Yesterday

Photo: Dagmara Gieysztor

Not Today’s Yesterday

Concept and Performance: Seeta Patel; Choreography: Lina Limosani; Visual Dramaturg: Dagmara Gieysztor

The Lowry, Salford [19.04.2017]

Sitting in darkness, we see a woman standing ornately. Waiting. Ready. And the story begins… a fairy tale about a far away land with ‘rivers of chocolate’ and ‘rain like diamonds’, is delivered by an external voice over and lip synced by the performer, Seeta Patel. The voice is calming and welcoming, with all the right intonations to lull a child to sleep. Although this destination, this land of nod is made of the sort of dreams that manifest themselves as nightmares for the inhabitants of the dream – almost like if the Wizard of Oz happened from the perspective of the bad witch. Except, this time she’d masqueraded as the good witch to gain your trust and the emerald city is a realm of translucent plastic.

Your journey through this land is a dance. It is a dance that you may be unfamiliar with, but nonetheless it is a dance that is gloriously uncomfortable and one that you open yourself to partake in. Blending Bharatanatyam with contemporary dance and, using the body as a storytelling map, Not Today’s Yesterday takes you on a journey to India, excavates the whitewashed history of the British Empire and hangs it out to dry.

In building a collision between contrasting materials and an absent colour palette, this piece immerses us in a world outside of the one we are familiar with. Yet, in using what resembled a curtain pull as a representation of hair, this piece immediately embodied a space that is prevalent in the lives of anyone who inhabits the diaspora. For women of colour, hair means and exemplifies a multitude of things and whilst these meanings differ for different groups of women, we share the experience of hair playing a part in our identities, both internally and externally. And when the hair is cut, the nightmare and dissociation begins…

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Your fairy tale journey ceases when you are faced with white paint being poured slowly down a translucent screen. You watch it drip. See Patel lie on the floor behind it. Wait. You watch her study it and distort the clean lines into a hazy mess. You watch her clear a circle to look through. Then you watch a shadow, jolting to sonic screwdriver-esque noises. And then you are faced with the elitist in plastic clothing with a long white braid. Dancing. And telling you to ‘get over it’.

This is what it’s like to live in the diaspora. To be in an alarming and confusing state of being force-fed a whitewashed curriculum and being expected to grin and bear it. To be silenced constantly because your white peers don’t like feeling uncomfortable. To not fully know your history, heritage and the whole of your mother tongue, because the language of the history books tells you what it desperately wants to hear itself. This is what it’s like to be othered everyday.

This is an important piece of dance theatre. It is authentic and honest but most importantly, it wills you to think for yourself. And for the white audience member, this is the well crafted and challenging Dear White People of theatre.

Verdict: An exceptional piece of political theatre that speaks volumes without a word being said on the stage.

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