Sunday, 31 August 2014

August Round-up

Natalia Osipova in Facada
(part of Solo for Two)
Photo: Doug Gifford
This month I have written blogs on No Frills, dancers' eating disorders and the 2014 International Dance Teacher Conference.
I also went to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and reviewed Much Ado About Muffins, Sushi Tap Show, Dirty Decadence, The Reviewers, Bottle Mail from Okinawa, Object of My Affection, Bromance, Kurakuraw Dance Glass BeadFeet Don't Fail Me Now and A Table.

Other writing:
A review of Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev's Solo for Two on Bachtrach
A review of Top Hat on Londonist
A review of London Contemporary Dance School's graduation performances (p.76) and a feature on the BalletBoyz Dancers' Course (p.19) in Dancing Times, September issue
My last Dance UK e-news (August) including a feature on Irish dance
I also edited the latest issue of the Dance UK magazine, Issue 88: New Inspiration

Friday, 22 August 2014

A Table

A Table, Stasis Company, theSpace: Venue 45 @ Edinburgh Fringe Festival - reviewed on 21st August
An abusive sadomasochistic couple forms the centrepiece of Statis Company's highly disturbing A Table. A film shows dominant Isabel Palmstierna forcing partner Olivia Norris to eat and vomit spaghetti repeatedly (literally ad nauseum). Onstage, the former then carries her submissive doll-like trophy and strokes her hair before switching back to violence.
At first, Norris's eyes are filled with fear, but her need for and comfort in being controlled soon becomes apparent. Left alone, she is distraught until her abuser returns.
Though polished in its delivery, A Table's subject matter makes for unpleasant viewing.

Dirty Decadence

Photo: Nick Rutter
Dirty Decadence, Theatre with Teeth, C nova @ Edinburgh Fringe Festival - reviewed on 21st August
Three couples, a barmaid and lots of whiskey – what could possibly go wrong? A lot, it would seem. Dirty Decadence features an illicit affair, a gay love story, several angry girlfriends and even a murder.

Taking inspiration from Laura Wade's play, Posh, the piece's thumping music and scheming characters demand attention. Theatre with Teeth's performers – a group of dancers studying at Exeter University – are enthusiastic but struggle at times with the choreography's technical demands. However, their commitment to their roles and the sordid narrative make Dirty Decadence an entertaining performance.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Feet Don't Fail Me Now

Feet Don't Fail Me Now, Rhythmic Circus, Assembly Hall @ Edinburgh Fringe Festival - reviewed on 20th August

I expected Feet Don't Fail Me Now to include great tapping, but what I didn't anticipate were the show's amazing musicians. There's a brilliant onstage band playing upbeat numbers, and beatboxer Aaron 'Heatbox' Heaton is nothing short of incredible (and I say this as someone who isn't really a beatboxing fan).

Rhythmic Circus's four dancers are impressive too and perform their intricate choreography with passion and panache. My only complaint is that I struggled to see their feet from where I was sitting.

The abundance of talented performers and engaging rhythms in Feet Don't Fail Me Now creates a really high energy and feelgood show.

Kurakuraw Dance Glass Bead

Kurakuraw Dance Glass Bead, Tijmur Dance Theatre, Dance Base @ Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Fusing traditional Paiwan dance with more modern choreography, Kurakuraw Dance Glass Bead tells the tale of a kurakuraw (peacock) who comes from the sky to find a wife. The latter's tears later become the glass beads of the title.

With storytelling in the Paiwan language, it's impossible to understand what is happening without reference to the programme. But the beautiful movement quality of Tjimur Dance Theatre's dancers, combining fluidity and precision, engages nonetheless. In a tender love duet, embittered solo and final swirling fabric-swathed duo, Chu-Yuan Hsu and Ching-Hao Yang are utterly captivating.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014


Bromance, Barely Methodical Troupe, Underbelly @ Edinburgh Fringe Festival - reviewed on 20th August

Photo: Matilda Temperley
The three performers in Bromance look like average guys. They shake each other's hands, introduce themselves and begin the typically male quest for one-upmanship, albeit in a particularly comedic manner. Who will be left out when it comes to applying hand lotion? Who can make the largest origami animal?

Of course, Barely Methodical Troupe is far from average, and in between its perfectly-conveyed awkward moments are some seriously impressive circus tricks. Whether being typically blokey, performing handstands, spinning inside a metal hoop or throwing each other around, the trio captivates.
I loved Bromance, and if you've ever tried to fit in without knowing how, you'll love it too.

Bottle Mail from Okinawa

Bottle Mail from Okinawa, Ship of the Ryukyu, Spotlites @ Edinburgh Fringe Festival - reviewed on 19th August

Instead of a programme, audience members at Bottle Mail from Okinawa are presented with an Okinawa guidebook. Similarly, the post-show feedback form asks if you intend to visit the islands rather than whether you enjoyed the performance.

Situated to the south of Japan, Okinawa has a rich cultural heritage which is demonstrated impressively by Ship of the Ryukyu's brightly-costumed cast. Music and dance ranges from the melodic and mesmeric to the loud and confrontational, but it is always performed with skill and conviction.

The narrative is hard to follow and the show feels like a travel agent pitch, but Bottle Mail from Okinawa's performers shine with their joy onstage.

The Reviewers

The Reviewers, Charlesworth and Holland Productions, Greenside @ Edinburgh Fringe Festival - reviewed on 19th August

It's the 1980s and Token University Theatre Group is performing at the Edinburgh Fringe. After a bad review, its lead actress decides to become a critic. 20 years later and her website gives top star ratings only to those who offer a bribe. So begins The Reviewers.

The production has many cleverly-constructed humorous moments, such as when a character excitedly exclaims that someone looked at his show's flyer before throwing it away. The basic idea behind The Reviewers is a good one and the cast is committed, but some aspects are a little rough around the edges.

Object of my Affection

Seated/ A Une Passante/ Into Decay, MurleyDance, Greenside @ Edinburgh Fringe Festival - reviewed on 19th August

Given the umbrella title of Object of my Affection, MurleyDance's triple bill explores the attachments people make, both with material objects and other people. Formed in 2012 and featuring dancers trained at top dance schools including the Royal Ballet School and Teatro alla Scala, the company is one of just four ballet-categorised groups at this year's Edinburgh Fringe. 

Opening the programme is Seated, created by company artistic director David Murley. Using a variety of chairs, including a throne and a bar stool, dancers explore relationships from the 18th Century to the present day. 

A 1980s armchair trio for mother and children impresses particularly. Simona Marsibilio argues with brother Ashley Selfe over the TV remote control, both scuffling on the floor in a believable and heartwarming childlike manner, while mother Georgina Connolly berates the noise and disarray. A solo centring on the building of an Ikea flat pack chair gives Seated a fitting and humorous present day conclusion. 

Richard Chappell's Into Decay also ends well with a beautiful pas de deux for Monica Tapiador and Gabriele Santoni. The rest of the piece is well performed and interesting for its athleticism but bears no obviously link to the evening's theme. 

Into Decay
The triple bill's centrepiece, A Une Passante, left me cold. Choreographed by Anthony Kurt-Gabel, it features two pairs of dancers, with one enacting the imagined encounter of the other. 

Object of My Affection could use some choreographic refinement, and would benefit too from clearer differentiation between works. But it offers the chance to see a talented contemporary ballet company up close (from just a few feet away) and I hope more people at the Fringe will take this rare opportunity.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Much Ado About Muffins

Photo: Tracy Fung
Much Ado About Muffins, Tales Retold and All in One Theatre, C Cubed @ Edinburgh Fringe Festival - reviewed on 19th August

Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest is filled with witty lines, clever characters and astute social commentary, but there isn't a song or dance in sight. In Phil Jacobs' brilliantly titled Much Ado About Muffins, this is rectified to create a musical that is possibly even more humorous than the original.

In between sections of Wilde's brilliant text, Cecily and Gwendolen have a full on bitch-fight, Lady Bracknell swings her hips and sings about the 'thrillable' name Ernest, and Dr Chasuble enjoys a lap dance. It's surreal and yet somehow it works.

Much Ado About Muffins is a fun and well-performed reinvention of Wilde's play.

Sushi Tap Show

Photo: Nick Rutter
Sushi Tap Show, Tokyo TapDo!, C @ Edinburgh Fringe Festival - reviewed on 18th August
Have you ever wondered what a Japanese frog sounds like? Probably not. But if you go and see Sushi Tap Show, not only will you find out but you'll also enjoy a brilliant hour of humour, tricks and tapping. (It's kero kero, in case you're interested.)

The five cast members from Tap Do! are both skilled dancers and engaging comedians. Led by the no-last-name-needed Pokei, who plays all manner of characters from conductor to Japanese school girl, they are so delightful onstage that it would be hard not to warm to them.

As well as some great tapping, they throw hoops, cups, mops and anything else that can be caught to raise a cheer. I even found myself clapping along and shouting 'wow', 'miaow' and other strange words - including the Japanese frog sounds - in audience participation sections.

Sushi Tap Show isn't great art, but it's very good fun and I would gladly watch it again.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

International Dance Teacher Conference 2014

Musical theatre class, International Dance Teacher Conference 2014, Royal Ballet School – reviewed on 6th August

I've written about the International Dance Teacher Conference several times and was able to pop in again this year for a musical theatre session with Joseph Prouse. Teaching the 'Time of My Life' routine from Dirty Dancing, Prouse guided teachers through various humorously-named steps, from the 'sniffing the armpit banana pose' to the bouncy 'John Travolta walks' and 'showing the shiny belt buckle' hip thrusts. 

"It’s as if you're trying to seduce someone at the other side of the room and you're subtly dancing your way over to them. Everything should feel free and loose - you need to flow through positions rather than hit them," explained Prouse. 

In its entirety, the routine lasts seven minutes and includes the incredibly famous overhead 'flying' lift (pictured above). Teachers only learnt a small section but I was impressed by their energy and enthusiasm (even at 9.30am in the morning during the summer holidays!).

Most impressive of all, however, is the fact that International Dance Supplies has managed to make this annual dance teacher conference such a vibrant and exciting event. It's great that those training the next generation of performers have a place to dance, learn and get inspired.

Monday, 4 August 2014

No Frills

No Frills, Dotdotdot Flamenco Company, Lost Theatre - reviewed on 1st August

In No Frills, flamenco is stripped back to its bare essentials. There are, admittedly, several frills (on the underside of a long flamenco skirt), but everything else is simple, high-quality music and dance.

Dancer/choreographers Magdalena Mannion, Noemí Luz and Yinka Esi Graves excel when performing together, with impressive syncronicity across a range of simple and complex steps. It is here the audience sees how flamenco builds from basic movements to intricate swirling and stamping rhythms.
Each gives a pleasing solo too, but the most captivating moments come when all three dance side by side onstage.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Dancers' Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are still a taboo topic in the dance world, despite their prevalence. But one person who is openly discussing (and trying to change) dancers' eating behaviour is consultant psychiatrist Jon Arcelus. His research focuses primarily on the ways in which teachers and coaches can have a positive impact, but also attempts to explain how and why dancers develop eating disorders (ED).
Eating problems are more common in elite athletes and dancers than the general population, but Arcelus points out that neither dance nor sport causes such problems. Eating disorders are the result of a number of factors – genetics provide the metaphorical gun, the environment loads it, and a stress factor pulls the trigger.
A dancer's pie of life
The personality traits generally found in ED patients are very similar to those required by high-level performers. Perfectionism, persistence, tolerance of pain and discomfort, ambition and a hard-work ethic are but a few of them. No wonder then that dancers (and athletes) – who have been successful because of these personality traits – are more likely to develop disordered eating.
Arcelus describes a ‘pie of life’ composed of the components of life that are important. For a non-dancer, the pie typically includes fairly evenly distributed segments including friends, family, work etc. For a dancer, however, a large proportion of time and energy has to be invested in dance in order to succeed. A dancer’s pie of life is therefore likely to be largely devoted to dance.
When something goes wrong, and dance can no longer fill this large proportion of a dancer’s self-worth and identity, it is easy for an eating disorder to take over. There are various stress factors that may pull the metaphorical ED trigger – typically they are characterised by a loss of control, such as if a dancer is injured or gives a poor performance. Just as dance is able to give a sense of achievement, belonging and structure to a dancer’s life, so too is an eating disorder. This makes it both easier for an ED to take hold, and potentially harder to recover.
Teachers and coaches can help prevent eating disorders by encouraging dancers to have interests outside of dance, and by offering support during periods of change and injury. They also have an important role in detecting the early signs of EDs and directing dancers to professional help.
Whilst Arcelus’s research may seem disheartening, understanding eating disorders and how they take hold can only be a positive thing. With understanding, teachers and others working in dance will be better able to tackle EDs head on and to help dancers have the healthiest and most fulfilling careers possible.