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Henri Oguike Dance Company - 'Front Line,'
'White Space,' 'FPS,' 'Finale'
by Lyndsey Winship
21, 2004 -- Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Back in 1994, Henri Oguike was
a founding member of the Richard Alston Dance Company, and a decade on,
the influence is clear. Not that the two choreographers' styles are alike
-- Oguike's movement is more vivid, more contrary and sometimes more fun
than his former director's -- but they share a sense of clarity, quality
and a great taste in music.
Shostakovich's "9th String Quartet in E flat" is a meaty piece
of music, and performed live by the Pavao Quartet, it makes a rich partner
for "Front Line." The dancers manage to match the score's truculent
drive and spiked edges with pacy steps and a battery of percussive feet,
stamping and slapping the floor, moving with and against the string players'
rhythms. Lined up along the front of the stage, the mostly well-matched
ensemble makes a strong impact, particularly Sarita Piotrowski, a young
dancer with sharp moves and plenty of sass.
Like the music, this choreography is soulful without being over-emotional.
There's a sense of struggle and of resilient spirit. Periodically and
unexpectedly, the dancers collapse in heaps on the floor. Gunned down
on the front line? Broken by their hardships? Or in pure movement terms,
the absolute "release" from these firm, frenetic phrases.
With glimpses of gumboots, cossacks and a jig, it feels like "Front
Line" is in touch with dance's folk roots. And Oguike shows us in
all of tonight's pieces that he hasnít forgotten the genesis of dance
-- or what spurs us to perform it.
With Domenico Scarlatti's harpsichord music flurrying in the background,
"White Space" toys with the conventions of social dance. Without
ever lapsing into slapstick or mimicry, the dancers manage to evoke the
poise and posing of court performers -- the prissy walks, the exaggerated
presentation, the geometric patterns traced on the floor.
Lighting and video effects are used to dramatise blackened silhouettes
and create a slow-moving Mondrian-esque backdrop. At one point, a lovers'
duet is interrupted by a close-up video highlighting a sequence of gestures.
Although the contrast between baroque gentility and digitally manipulated
images is slightly jarring, the purpose is clear. When the dancers then
repeat the section, our new-found intimacy with the steps leaves everyone
The programme also includes a short new solo, "FPS," danced
by the choreographer himself. It's nice to see Oguike on stage with his
samurai's speed, strength and grace, but he adds little to the surging
improvisatory phrases of Bill Evans's "Peace Piece."
They finish off with "Finale," a carnivalesque celebration bathed
in sunny yellow light. Rene Aubrey's Latin dance rhythms cavort across
the stage, and the dancers follow suit, some looking more at ease than
others with the opportunity to show a bit of personality. "Finale"
doesn't quite take the roof off, but it is very infectious nonetheless,
and you get the feeling there is so much more to come.
Edited by Lori Ibay
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