Back to Dalston at the weekend to review a show at the CASA Festival of Latin American Arts. Ladylike soundes intriguing, a dance piece based around the use of “chick” or “hen” to describe women, and taking a variety of dance and music styles from hip-hop to rumba.
The Ella Mensa Company first creates this piece in 2015, and it has been in evolution ever since. Four female dancers take to the floor, Anna Alvarez, Azara Meghie, Hsing Ya Wu, and Lucia Afonso.
A circle of chicken food marks the area where for the next 55 minutes their movements will challenge and expose issues relating to sexual consent, cultural and gender stereotyping, and even the audience gaze.
For me, some takeaway messages aside from the incredible athleticism of the dancers on display were around how women are regarded in Cuba, Dominican Republic, Japan and close environs, and how animal behaviour can also mimic behaviours such as attack, flirtation, assault and rutting.
Meghie in particular assumes a gender fluid role, inviting aggression and assuming dominance, but in more tender passages she is the rescuer of those in peril – the shopper who reveals a weakness for rope bondage, the yellow bird who mouths “help me” to the audience.
There are queer motifs, expressions of sisterhood, moments of vulnerability as the participants dress and undress each other, shackling one into a bright Brazilian headdress here that resembles a bird of paradise, unmasking another here in a flowing yellow dress.
In the Arcola’s Studio 1 we watch these women perform under flickering lights, pulsing music, and a simple black box staging. At times they interact with audience members by locking eyes or invading personal space, at others they sit back and watch each other’s routines and stories.
Ladylike is an unusual piece of dance storytelling which retains a powerful message around the role and assent of women in the Latin one, although of course many of these messages can be read universally. By using humour to push forward an uncomfortable set of facts, this piece in fact gains rather than loses its strength.
Ladylike played at Arcola Theatre from 16-20 July. The CASA Festival 2019 continues to 27 July, with theatre and dance at the Arcola and films at the Rio Cinema.
You may recall my interview with Jennifer Masters, creator of this show and co-founder of Masters of Choreography, the Australian company behind Beats on Pointe.
Now it is time to enjoy the full show, a fusion of ballet, street dance and hip hop, with thirteen talented and versatile dancers. As someone who enjoys all forms of dance, I can appreciate traditional work en pointe just as much as breakdancing and movement to the accompaniment of beatboxing.
This show does take a bit of time to lower the lights and get going, with a dance contest opener which reminded me of the gym hall sequence in West Side Story, as two opposing factions circle each other in competition.
Soon, though, ballerinas become street dancers, acrobats pirouette, and everything loosens up into a joyous celebration of music (whether Chaka Khan, the Jackson 5, Wham, Eminem, Bruno Mars or other pulsating tracks which melt into each other) and movement.
All the cast are energetic, gifted and dedicated dancers, from Danny Williams’s exuberant tumbling to the grace of Rebecca Selkirk, from the impish posturing of Brodie Chesher to the wiry athleticism of Taylor Diamond-Lord. Musicianship and rhythm is on display, too.
You’ll see lit-up costumes (so many changes of costumes, I lost count), inventive use of props, flashes of humour, head spins, torches, moments of beauty where the limits of what the human body can do is on display, and a fantastic soundtrack.
I spent the entire evening with a smile on my face, in the company of a show which sets out to entertain and does it beautifully, encouraging its audience to clap, shout, scream and engage.
The show continues at the Peacock Theatre until the 16 June, then tours. Photo credits Heidi Victoria.
Known for pushing conventional dance boundaries, Masters of Choreography is back with their worldwide sell out show Beats on Pointe, a dynamic modern story of two opposing dance worlds; street vs ballet.
The Peacock Theatre in Holborn is the venue for Australian’s hit dance fusion show, Beats on Pointe, which returns from 21 May to 16 June 2019. You can expect dance, beat boxing, break dancing, and much more as ballet and street dance comes together, and it looks to be a very exciting show for theatre, dance and ballet fans alike.
I asked Jennifer Masters, the show’s director, producer, writer and director of choreography, to tell me a bit more about the show in advance of its opening.
The advance publicity promises a ballet and street mash-up where “opposing worlds clash”. Is this particularly exciting for you as the main creator and choreographer of the show, and where did the original idea come from?
I am extremely excited to be able to see my vision come to life on stage. Ballet is the foundation of all dance and my personal passion lies within street dance so creating this fusion as a commercial dance theatre production is something that has been whirling around in my mind for a very long time.
I have always loved fusing genres in my choreography as I feel that it makes for exciting and dynamic entertainment, so to take this methodology to the stage in the manner that I have presented in Beats on Pointe is absolutely magnificent!
There are comic moments amongst the classic and contemporary dance moves – what can an audience for Beats on Pointe expect for entertainment?
Beats on Pointe is more than just a dance show, it is a dance theatre extravaganza. Keeping this in mind, I wanted to ensure that I presented elements outside of choreography that would entertain the audience and keep them fixed on what was happening on the stage.
Comedic moments are displayed throughout the entire show, as well as live percussion, singing, beatboxing and audience participation. When I merge all these elements along with an upbeat killer soundtrack, it makes for a fantastic, feel-good experience that is unquestionably breath-taking!
It must be interesting for the dancers to explore different facets of their profession. How has the fusion of styles and backgrounds impacted on the creative process?
I have thoroughly enjoyed watching my dancers train outside their comfort zones and beyond their usual genres of dance and performance. My vision and creative process is thorough and encompassing whereby I ensure that I am able to extract the best artistry out of each of my performers.
I enjoy finding talents beyond their dance training so that I can bring their unique variety of skills to my stage. In this regard, the various backgrounds of training and experience from my cast has definitely impacted on the creative process.
Where possible and keeping in line with my creative vision, I utilise the additional skillsets that these performers bring with them, many times pushing the boundaries of my vision and the abilities of the dancers. I will never compromise my show nor my dancers, but I will push the limits to create brilliance!
The poster advertising the show is so vibrant, colourful and evocative. How important is it that the technical side of the production complements the different dance styles, or have creative choices been made which will surprise us?
I like to think that our show poster along with the Beats on Pointe stylistic lettering, with its vibrancy, colour and energy, portrays exactly what I want to convey to anyone considering to see this show – that it will be modern, edgy and electric entertainment.
As with any stage show, it goes without saying that the technical side of the production needs to complement the various dance styles and performances on stage, however, I have ensured that what happens on my stage can stand on its own merits, that the creativity, energy and performance value is always exciting and memorable.
Each component of the show has a ‘WOW’ factor. I wanted to ensure that if an audience member walks into my show at any given time, that they will not be able to take their eyes off the stage.
What have been your influences in ballet, street and hip-hop? Do you like to pay homage to any of the ground-breaking artists of the past?
The influences on this show and my creative process are many and eclectic with both music artists and dancers inspiring my creative process. I can immediately name artists such as Mikhail Baryshnikov whom I also had the pleasure of seeing perform live on stage and whom has always inspired me; there is also Janet and Michael Jackson who impacted my dance career immensely and others such as the dancers from movies like Breakdance and Beat Street which were released throughout my youth and that had a huge impact on the dance scene. I do pay homage to some of my influences in this show but you will need to see Beats on Pointe to see what I have created for your entertainment.
Tell me a bit about the musical choices for Beats on Pointe. Will anything particularly shock or move audiences?
I am extremely proud of the music selection for Beats on Pointe. Each choice of music was made with the thought that it had to portray the energy and positivity of the show, without taking away the fun and feel-good factor I wanted our show to provide to our audience.
The show will not shock anyone because of its music content or lyrics but what may shock is the choice of music made for the piece that is being performed, such as a ballerina performing to an Eminem track. There are also numerous moments that the music and the performance of our dancers will move our audience with a mixture of emotions ranging from joy to a calming awe.
Overall, the response to my musical selection has been outstanding and due to the audience demand, I am proud to say that you can now order the Beats on Pointe soundtrack!
What is coming up next for Masters of Choreography?
London is an exciting part of the global tour we have planned for our Beats on Pointe show. We have dates locked in throughout the world over the next couple of years and are very excited with this tour.
Beats on Pointe has a sister show called Raise the Barre which we will be bringing to the international stage in 2020 as well. In addition to our yearly showcases and events, we also have other shows in the development stage and are also focused on a few new avenues of entertainment that we will announce over the next year. We are proud of our achievements and look forward to taking our shows and events throughout the world. As we like to say – All for the love of dance!
I started this blog in 2011 to report back on shows I have attended, mainly theatre but also some concerts and sporting events.
It has also become a vehicle for some film, television (current and archive), book reviews, and some more personal pieces.
On a professional level I worked for twenty-five years as a librarian, and also am a published writer – academic articles, poetry, popular culture – and spent five years editing a journal for a major publisher. If you would like to know more, see my LinkedIn profile.
As of 2019 writing and editing has become my main job, and I am very keen to engage with productions, outlets, and arts organisations to expand my coverage and my reviews.
Michael Clark used to be the enfant terrible of modern dance, whether dancing with The Fall in trousers with the seat missing, cavorting around with Leigh Bowery, or producing, now and again, really superior pieces of work such as ‘O’, ‘Mmm’, and fun pieces such as ‘Because We Must’.
Now, at 54 years of age, his company returns to the Barbican with a new show called to a simple, rock ‘n’ roll … song. These days Clark is much more mainstream, settled with a partner who is as much part of the establishment as he is (Stefan Kalmar, who runs the ICA), and with this show, he offers a sad but powerful goodbye to David Bowie – even appearing briefly himself (knowingly, ending prone on the floor) during a routine set to ‘Blackstar’, a fun piece with Patti Smith music, and a fusion of sound and movement to the music of Erik Satie.
It’s good to see him back and at the top of his artistic powers, creating something which is still sexy, still punchy, still just a little bit subversive. Although age and injury has stopped him dancing into his later years, he still has a stage presence which draws the eye, and in his company he has a number of performers we can watch for the future, especially Harry Alexander, tall, lithe and graceful.
This four-part dance show in remembrance of the First World War is a bit of a mixed bag, with some excellent moments (notably in the first sequence, ‘No Man’s Land’, choreographed by Luke Scarlett, where the women wrap their arms round the men’s shoulders in mimicry of the straps of kit-bags, and where the yellow hands of the women workers flash around the ghosts of their men-folk following battle in the trenches; and in the last sequence, ‘Dust’, choreographed by Akram Khan, which uses snatches of the recording of Cpl Edward Dwyer from 1916 singing to the tune of Auld Lang Syne to accompany a powerful duet between soldier and nurse, poignant even more so when you realise Dwyer was only twenty years old when he died in combat shortly after making the recording), and some mis-steps – Russell Maliphant’s ‘Second Breath’ uses a distortion of Richard Burton’s reading of the Dylan Thomas poem ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’ which simply jars and distracts from the formation of bodies within the routine; George Williamson’s ‘The Firebird’ is beautiful and engaging, but does not belong here, within this theatre of war.
Tamara Rojo, artistic director of the English National Ballet, dances a major role in ‘No Man’s Land’, and she has the style and authority of the great classical tradition to work with – making her character very touching and memorable. Scarlett’s choreography is by turns gentle and aggressive, and his male duets work well to depict the scale of the conflict. In ‘The Firebird’, the dancing is centred by the damaged bird and the men who conspire to remove her finery. ‘Second Breath’ is an ensemble piece, well punctuated by recordings from the audio archives, snatches of which set the scene – “constant bombardment”, for example. ‘Dust’, however, is a stunning and powerful piece of work which stands well on its own, and has the most to say in tribute to those who lost their lives in the Great War; it also states a truth that women in munitions were building material that would kill other women’s husbands, fathers, sons, and the disconnect between this role and the one genetically expected of women, to care and nurture other people.
Michael Clark remains an associate artist at the Barbican Centre and as part of that association, has created a new double bill of work, entitled ‘New Work’, with music in the first half by Scritti Politti, and in the second by Pulp/Relaxed Muscle (who appeared live at the London dates).
Clark’s choreography has matured over the years from his initial shock tactics and freak performers (like Leigh Bowery) to fluid movements, emotionless trust between his performers (including Kate Coyne and Jonathan Olliver, formerly of the Northern Ballet Theatre), and a slightly naughty vibe, underpinned by his own bemusing cameos. I remember his leading roles and can see his influence directly in a couple of his younger male dancers – however, in this show there may be a little too much going on at times, notably a scrolling set of texts which eventually spell the sentence ‘I’m thinking of opening a zoo’, and the aforementioned live band performance which is rather intrusive when singer Jarvis Cocker blocks the audience view of the dancers.
Costumes have always played a big part in this group’s performances, often being a draw in their own right. Here the focus moves from men in short dresses through to two tone skin tight bodysuits. The opening of the show, too, is novel – a dancer slowly descends to the stage, suspended by a very flimsy looking wire.
‘New Work’ showcases mesmerising movement with pulsating music beats in the second half, and sweet mellow vibes in the first. This group does not disappoint, and long may Clark continue to make his brief showcase appearances alongside his talented performers.