Last night I went with my friend Ruth to see the Firsts program at the Linbury Studio of the Royal Opera House. This is the third year of this tradition for me and I really look forward to having an opportunity to get exposure to performers/choreographers etc. that I’d never heard of before (i.e. Hofesh Schecter). It’s a stunningly affordable event at 5 quid a pop, which helps cheer me up when there is (inevitably) mixed quality among the pieces. (I figure just one dud within four short pieces is quite tolerable – what I’m hoping for is just one thing that is really brilliant.) There’s also a problem in that there are several bills during the course of each year’s firsts, and how do you choose which to go to? Unsurprising the series is tremendously popular and as it’s turned out it can be difficult getting tickets to even one!
The first performance was Compañia LA doing Hambre. I was expecting some sort of circus act (as per the program note), but what I was got was much more so than that; physical performance (in this case juggling) used in a way that illustrated character and told a story. It was two men, one young and bookish, the other bald and hunched over, interacting with each other over a dinner table. The first man gave a clue about what was to come as he balanced a strange, giant-turtle-egg looking ball on a book he was reading, then fought with the other man to keep him from stealing his ball. This led to dinner and some silliness with plates, and, of course, a basket with eggs in it had to show up. There was a bit of a build up to the use of the eggs as items to juggle with, but finally they got going (once they’d established they actually had white balls instead of eggs), and the balls were flying everywhere. There was a regular theme of the guys stealing the eggs from each other, but really it was about them keeping them in motion, finally ending with a PONG like bit where they were bouncing balls off of chairs on top of the table and at each other. And it all ended … well, with a laugh. It was a great start to the night.
After a brief pause, the Chisato Minaminura Dance Company got rolling with “The Canon for Duet,” a piece which apparently made it through the trials of The Place Prize 2008 (something else which I should actually start seeing). The two dancers (Jemima Hoadley, Hannah Shepherd) performed in silence for about 4/5s of its length, with the music being represented as a projection at the back of the stage – basically what a stereo would show of the music at different tones from bass to treble. There was a fair bit of hand flapping and some movement forward and backwards in the center of the stage, which changed the height of the shadows they were casting. However, they mostly seemed to ignore each other, never really making eye contact, and I found the performance not very engaging. When the music – which was specially composed for this Minaminura – was finally played, it did add a tremendous layer of context to what they were doing, but overall I found this only engaged me as a mental exercise, not as interesting choreography.
After the intermission, we moved onto Albert Quesada and Vera Tussing’s “Beautiful Dance.” For this piece, the two dancers instructed us that, “During the performance will weill ask you to close and open your eyes. Please close your eyes.” We then listened to them walking and dancing on stage for a bit (I think – I didn’t take notes because my eyes were shut!). It sounded to me like they were trying to express the music of a song entirely through the beats of their feet (this would, I believe, be Beethoven’s Sonata number 13). When we opened our eyes, they stood side by side on stage, the one marching his feet while the other did what seemed to be arpeggios with hers, still in a bit of a march step. While this music they were making with their bodies continued (and a strange sight to watch it was, too), they started playing with the shadows they were creating on the back of the stage. I actually really enjoyed this, as they made it look like four people were performing, managed to get the shadows to cross over each other while the performers did not, and even made the shadows walk off of the stage so there was not one remaining. It was a really fun lighting trick and the whole performance was actually quite enjoyable, even though they only added the music in for a tiny bit. It really contrasted with the Minamura piece and I think was far more compelling.
The final bit of the night was Helen Stromberger’s “Illuminating Georgia,” which was my absolute favorite. It was less about dance than about creating a look which used human bodies to achieve it – while also commenting on the nature of people (in my mind). The dancers were very tightly controlled in a way that reminded me of “Attempts on Her Life.” Yet somehow, while I felt like the actors’ spirits were being sucked out of them by the highly structured, improv killing set up used for AHL, the work of beauty that was created in “Illuminating Georgia” left me in no way feeling like I’d been short changed (though it’s likely that the dancers weren’t being stretched as much as they could have been).
The piece opened with four women in white dresses standing in the dark, then having projections very precisely aimed on their faces, making for a kind of “Haunted Mansion” effect. They then had fire images (sort of) projected on them, which seemed to very deliberately also hit the curtain at the back of the stage, so that their bodies were faintly outlined, in a way that made me think of the old Kyrilian Aura they showed on “In Search Of.” And then the woman’s bodies, to me they looked like they were representing the swirls of energy inside the human body – the energy of thought, of mind, of emotion, of all the things that make us humans, and the outlines behind were what was visible of our tremendous inner experience. I was completely entranced – in fact, I was so caught up in what was going on on the stage that I forgot to take notes other than, “It’s a giant Nazbatag!” Oops. That said, what a great way to end the night!
Overall, this was a highly successful Firsts evening, leaving me regretting that 1) I hadn’t brought J (the lighting geek) and W (the juggling geek) with me and that 2) I couldn’t see any of the other performances. My other quibble? Too many open seats downstairs, for which I’m assuming people just didn’t bother to show up. I would say charge more – say 10 quid – and maybe people will value the experience a little bit more.
(This review is for a performance that took place on Tuesday, November 18th and repeats on November 19th – but it’s sold out.)
Description from the ROH website, which I will expect they will take down soon as they don’t really bother to archive their performances:
18 | 19 NOVEMBER 7.45PM
Compañia LA are a young and exciting contemporary circus/physical theatre company. Their show Hambre, which has toured widely in Europe, explores the change in relationship between two characters when their lives, confined to their home, become distorted through hunger and fear. The fusion of object manipulation and physical theatre in this comic yet reflective show, with a surreal twist, will delight.
THE CANON FOR DUET
CHISATO MINAMIMURA DANCE COMPANY
Born in Japan and deaf from birth, Chisato Minamimura is a remarkable dancer and choreographer whose aim is to visualize a deaf person’s response to sound through choreography. In the Canon for Duet, which reached the Place Prize 2008 semi-finals, she works with film, sound and silence to create this intriguing and thought-provoking work.
VERA TUSSING & ALBERT QUESADA
‘ This engaging duo mirrored the spirit of the music in their percussive limbs, producing an understated delight.” Metro
Described as a ‘sonata for the body’ , Beautiful Dance explores movement as an acoustic, as well as a simply visual device; to achieve that peculiar sensitivity that occurs when each of the senses is isolated, and only then brought into play with each other. Beautiful Dance is part of an interdisciplinary and quirky project combining music, the science of semiotics, and dance to create a new movement-language.
HELGA STROMBERGER/VILAS CON KRILAS
Questioning the essence of physical existence, Illuminate Georgia uses the performers’ bodies as a projection surface to create a world of illusion where the appearance of the bodies is constantly transformed, abstracted and fragmented. As the dancers move through a series of physical states they enter a realm of an abstract existence where they merge with vibrating shapes and flickering lights.
Warning! Performance contains flashing lights.