Asian Music and Dance

Exposure: Dance

These two evenings of short works by young and more established choreographers yielded unsurprisingly mixed results. Several pieces were specially commissioned by ROH2, the more experimental strand of the Royal Opera House. Both bills were curated by Theresa Beattie, whose support especially for emerging dance-based artists in the UK is well-known within the industry. But despite best intentions all round, I experienced a creeping dissatisfaction with the bulk of each programme. 

Based on an extract from R.K. Narayan’s novel, A Tiger for Malgudi, in which said animal confronts the man who captured it, Mayuri Boonham’s Tiger-Bharatanatyam was promisingly conceived as ‘a duet for one dancer’. Clad in black shorts and an aquamarine lycra top daubed with flame-like licks of black, red and white, long-limbed Ashley James Orwin’s ambiguous prettiness was accentuated by kohl eyes and a swept-back mop of blond hair. Accompanied by the pulsating music of Talvin Singh and Nilardi Kumar, the strapping Orwin stalked the stage with a mixture of smug superiority and sniffy suspicion. Although he had the animal moves down pat, the role’s intended duality somehow escaped complete clarification. By the time Orwin hobblingly prowled towards an exit my interest had flagged. 

ROH2 associate artist Sarah Dowling fared better with The Wake, abetted by the participation of moonlighting Royal Ballet dancers Kristen McNally and Thomas Whitehead. Inspired by Irish traditions in dealing with the dead, and featuring evocative and sparingly used live music from singer-percussionist Brona McVittie and violinist Ruth Elder, this lyrical, understated piece played out like a Hibernian sketch for the Hollywood blockbuster turned West End musical, Ghost

Created as part of a projected evening of his work, Marc Brew’s Fusional Fragments was an earnest, ambitious and strenuously abstract quintet investigating the potentially charged crossroads between classical and contemporary dance. Set to an astral-tribal score (music by Evelyn Glennie and Philip Sheppard), the piece sent a highly-trained cast into paroxysms of leggy, barefoot balleticism in the extreme insectile-android manner of Wayne McGregor. Sharp yet pretzel-like duos and trios were juxtaposed against oozily elongated and fibrillating solos, but what was all the vacuum-packed urgency meant to convey to ordinary mortals? Brew and his dancers merit an A for effort, however, with additional credit due to lighting designer Andy Hamer. 

The second evening commenced with an episodic, overlong extract from Stephanie Schober’s Traffic, a duet set to Camilla Barratt-Due’s distracting and at times exceedingly irritating live score for voice, accordion, electronic equipment and, er, plastic bottle. Dancers Keir Patrick and Lisa Manavit emitted sounds, too – breathing and almost-words – when not required to swat invisible flies or slowly drag plastic chairs across the floor. Inspired by American composer Tom Johnson’s piano piece, Abundant Numbers, Traffic contained subtle rewards and suggestions of something possibly more consistently engaging than the rather diffuse, quirky tedium on offer. For me, it demonstrated just how fine the line between playful and pointless can be. 

Initially comprising solos delineating the dancers’ contrasting styles, Arranged Marriage was Devaraj Thimmaiah’s duet for Fukiko Takase and himself. His floor-bound, serpentine gymnastics were played off against her more slippery, flirtatiously sensual moves until the pair met via a series of flipping lifts. Although it broke no new ground, this finely-danced piece was rapturously received.

In Taal (‘language’ in Afrikaans, and in Indian culture a reference to rhythmic systems) the imposingly lanky, barefoot Alesandra Seutin was joined by her compact collaborator, the tap-dancer Annette Walker. The turf they traversed was four wooden platforms placed adjacently on a diagonal. Seutin punctuated her earthy, upright undulations with tiny tongue clicks, while Walker’s percussive feet gently percolated. Conceived as both mutual challenge and shared pleasure, the women’s short, simple cultural exchange felt original and authentic. 

Finally there was Cameron McMillan’s If Nobody Speaks…, set to Elspeth Brooke’s reworking (meaning layered with natural, domestic and urban sounds) of Bach. Lisa Welham, a pert-bottomed blonde with a fluid technique, and the equally accomplished McMillan passed through a series of fleeting, high-flown encounters designed as a somewhat vague kinetic essay (complete with black-outs) on the potential pitfalls of interpersonal communication. As in Thimmaiah’s dance, the couple here covered the Clore’s ample stage space with an elastic swoop and swirl that helped them earn the audience’s warm appreciation.



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