United Kingdom Various composers, 1898: Contemporary Dance Festival, Print Room at the Coronet, London, 23.2.2015 (J.O’D)
Performers: Cree Barnett Williams, David Ledger, Naomi Sorkin
Choreography: Hubert Essakow
Music: Claude Debussy, Erik Satie
Additional sound and video projection: Gareth Mitchell
Performers: Kirill Burlov and Rob McNeill
Choreography: Kirill Burlov
Music: Original compostion by Platon Buravicky
Scene To Be Seen
Performers: Tamarin Stott and Nathan Young
Music: Original composition by Ryan Cockerham
Choreography: Tamarin Scott
Beholder of Beauty
Performers: Mbulelo Ndabeni and Piedad Albarracin Seiquer
Choreography: Mbulelo Ndabeni
Music: Original composition by Shirley Thompson
Set and Costume Design: Hannah Hall
Lighting Design: Ben Nichols
Sound Design: Fred Riding
For the Print Room’s first dance programme in its new home, the building that was once the Coronet Cinema, Notting Hill, becomes the setting for a site-specific encounter between the present and the past. Part of it does, at least. The Print Room moved in last July, from its original premises nearby. Renovation work is not yet complete. The stage of the small, dark studio theatre seems to hover unattached like a cell, or pod, within a cavernous, Victorian building part of whose currently inaccessible, gold, proscenium arch appears in a scene in the film Notting Hill.
Four choreographers were invited to present work on the theme of ‘1898’, the year in which the Coronet was built. In the programme notes, Artistic Director, Anda Winter, describes these dance pieces, which follow each other without intervals, as works in progress. Like the Coronet itself, they will be developed. With the help of their shared costume, lighting, sound and projection designers, all four pieces already convey a strong sense of an imagined, and not altogether pleasant, past. As the first live performances in the building for over a hundred years, they also convey a sense of history in the making.
The enigmatic Adieu, by Hubert Essakow (Print Room Associate Artist and Choreographer), begins with projection of silent, grainy, black-and-white film. Dancers David Ledger and Cree Barnett Williams enter from the aisle. Their white clothes, in light materials, resemble late-Victorian underwear. As the older Sarah Bernhardt (who appeared on the stage of the Coronet), Naomi Sorkin is dressed in black, first of all, then pale orange.
These three figures move around each other, to recordings of Satie and Debussy, or to what sounds like Bernhardt’s own voice. Sometimes they interact, for example in the women’s brief, sensuous duet, or in a tableau vivant. For the most part, they inhabit separate worlds of memory or desire. The lissom David Ledger manages to imbue even a slow handstand with both.
When he runs on to the stage at the start of Absinth(e), dancer and choreographer Kirill Burlov could be mistaken for Charlie Chaplin with his black trousers, white shirt and moustache. But any sense of the comic is quickly dispelled. No sooner has Burlov stopped running on the spot than an arm reaches round from behind the back wall. It is the arm of a second, identically dressed man, an absinthe-produced hallucination.
There is a very real sense of violence about this piece. As the nightmarish alter ego, Rob McNeil pushes his victim about the stage with different parts of his body, or lifts him into the air. He places the shadow of his hand over the other man’s hand as it rests on the wall. By lying on the floor and hooking his toes around the standing man’s ankles, he becomes Burlov’s shadow itself. To a soundtrack of throbbing and humming, the two men throw themselves at each other. They wrestle rather than dance. At the end, there is blood on McNeil’s shirt.
Past and present overlap at the beginning of Tamarin Scott’s Scene To Be Seen. Spotlights come up on an apparently elegant Victorian couple (Stott and fellow English National Ballet dancer, Nathan Young) seated among the audience. But the woman takes out a mobile phone for a selfie. After this lively and promising opening, which reminded me of Scott’s work for ENB’s Choreographics at The Place two years ago, the piece rather settles down into a series of lifts (striking in themselves) and poses. Stott and Young know, I think, how to represent a Victorian couple, and how to suggest a darker side to that relationship. If this is a work in progress, perhaps it is the soundtrack that needs to be changed. At the moment it is less subtle, somehow, than the dance.
After costumes that have been predominantly white, or beige, the pink-red kimono that Mbulelo Ndabeni wears as he crouches on the floor at the start of Beholder of Beauty is a surprise. So, when he lifts his head, is the sight of his white-painted, Geisha face and red-painted lips. (‘The Geisha’ was the title of the first opera performed at the Coronet, in 1898.) In the piece that puts the present and the past most obviously together on the stage, Ndabeni is joined by the figure of a modern-day young woman (Piedad Albarracin Seiquer). The two dance together (a slow shuffle). Then the woman dances alone, her celebratory freedom of movement contrasting with Ndabeni’s earlier, floor-bound dance; her smile with his earlier, silent howl of pain. It is the only optimistic work of the four, but as a work in progress it needs to be shortened.