Monday, 22 November 2010

Too far? Wayne McGregor, Random Dance

Wayne McGregor - the most celebrated choreographer working in the world today - could be running out of ideas. In his new work, Far, which premiered last Wednesday at Sadler's Wells - his supremely talented Random Dance performers contorted their lithe bodies into the choreographic maestro's usual eye-watering, asymetrical shapes. Narrative-free, abstract and compelling, the man's aesthetic is to deconstruct the pleasing lines we associate with ballet to uncover what lies beneath. The answer - compelling oddity. Afterall, whatever these dancers do to their bodies as they are young, supremely talented and hot. Ugliness isn't part of their DNA.

Far is presented on a bare stage apart from a large white rectangular light installation by Lucy Carter for rAndom International.The piece's pinned lights sweep, high-light and scintillate from crazed disco effect what looked like running water. It is brilliant and mesmerizing. And it is also distracting. I found myself watching its lucid pyrotechnics more than I was the dancers in the foreground. This might be forgiveable in an art gallery where this work could be seen as an art piece rather than a dance performance. McGregor's collaborations are fascinating, he's worked with Juilan Opie, Joby Talbot and the White Stripes in past productions, especially 2006's Chroma - his most popular and greatest work to date.

With this piece, McGregor takes his inspiration from Roy Porter's posthumous book, Flesh In the Age of Reason on which the work draws it's name (an acronym) and inspiration. But who can tell?

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Time Lord, Marclay's The Clock, White Cube Mason's Yard till November 13th

Video artist Christian Marclay's 'The Clock' is the most original timepiece in the world because it's a film. A film that tells you the time by using every kind of movie that's ever had a shot of a clock, a character glancing at their watch or a bank robber muttering something like, 'It's now 2.29, the bomb will explode in 31 minutes!'.

The film runs for twenty-four hours - a mash up of black and white, Hollywood blockbuster, foreign language, schlock, glitz, tack (indeed, that is Jack Nicholson singing, ''It's three twenty five" to a glitter-eyed babe), art house, adventure, western, rom com, musical and drama.

The only narrative thread, is time, everything else is back story. The film's characters are telling, seeing, ignoring or responding to time as it happens. Yet these moments are fictions from source material that span over 80 years of film product. It's a dizzying concept made real via thousands of hours research on a spaghetti mountain of footage. For who can remember a great panning shot that features a clock from any film? Let alone the precise moment it happened.

It's tempting to say something clever about how 'The Clock' explores the fragmentation of time by deconstructing time's logic and rationality. I could even give it a psychoanalytic spin and see this work as a carnivalesque subversion of tyrannical super-ego 'father' time. A cocked-up clock, perhaps.

But what struck me most was the enormous pleasure this piece gives its audience. Just hear those gasps of pleasure at each audacious moment of time-revealing footage!

So remove your watch, sit back, and enjoy the ride of your life.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Two operas and a dance off - Gluck, Monteverdi and Pina Bausch 28/29th October 2010

The development of opera in its first 150 years was a refinement of the melodic line and the bringing together of evermore complex vocal groups before the shuddering emotional onslaught of the Romantics at the end of the 18th Century. The same thing happened to pop when rock 'n roll first charged the solar plexus. To compare opera's first great master, Monteverdi (17th C) with Gluck (18th C) over a hundred years later is to consider two ends of a logically pleasing developmental arc.
Yet there is emotional depth in even the earliest operas. The fact that Monteverdi took the story of Nero and Poppea for his last and greatest opera showed a willingness to take on historically accurate human frailties rather than the mores of mythological gods and monsters. Although it takes a leap of the imagination still to see murderous Nero sung by a slight mezzo-soprano, Lucia Cirillo, in the Glyndebourne Festival production currently on tour.
Transplanted to a 1930s Italy, we can read the dictator as a proto Mussolini - all slicked down hair and puffed up vanity. Christiane Karg's Poppea was out sung and out performed by Louise Poole's slighted and murderous Empress Ottavia. While the chicly minimal set - little more than a series of heavy red drapes (symbolizing blood and love) created palaces and bathrooms with simple rearrangements. For a touring production this feels neat and mobile. For a more permanent production its unrelenting simplicity is underwhelming.

A note on Glyndebourne itself. This was my first time. Thankfully there weren't the penguin-suited opera toffs as this was out off season, but the rolling grounds and the round elegance of the theatre itself conjured a quieter kind of magic. I was smitten. For the theatre itself is simple and intimate and was obviously developed by those for whom the art of opera itself is paramount rather than as a crass paean to snobbery. It is a place designed for art.

Choreographer Pina Bausch once said, 'I'm not interested in how people move, but in what moves them.' What obviously moved her in 1974 was the limpid beauty of Gluck's opera Iphigenie auf Tauris against which she created a full length ballet where her signature motifs the hand clenched staggers, the tossed hair of a lead woman both troubled and seductive and the intsensity and precision of her groupings conjure the horror/comic paintings of Paula Rego. Bausch was a unique choreographic artist (she died in 2009) whose works are as much theatrical happenings, art pieces - calling them dances diminishes their absorbing power. This use of a late baroque opera requiring a full orchestra, soloists and chorus shows her pushing choreography into unlikely but rich territory. Would Mark Morris have had his love affair with the purity of the baroque (in his case, Handel) without this ground-breaking innovation from Bausch?
Or, in fact, would we even be seeing 'Poppea' with Bausch and her ilk's audacity 40 years ago.