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Henri Oguike Dance Company

Open rehearsal for 'Tiger Dancing' plus extracts from 'Front Line' and 'Finale'

by Rosella Simonari

January 27, 2006 -- Annibal Caro Theatre, Civitanova Alta, Italy

What is the relationship between a work and its creator? Can a dance piece be considered definite once it has premiered in front of an audience? Maybe yes, maybe no. Maybe a dance piece changes every time it is performed, every time the venue changes, every time the audience changes. In the case of “Tiger Dancing”, choreographer Henri Oguike decided to completely rework the piece after its debut in St. Edmundsbury Cathedral, Suffolk on May 19, 2005.

Set to contemporary composer Steve Martland’s music, it is a piece partly inspired by William Blake’s famous poem, ”The Tiger”. Thanks to a two-week residency promoted by Civitanova Danza, Henri Oguike had the chance to go back to his piece and re-work it from scratch. The company resided at the Imperatrice Eugenia guestrooms and had the opportunity to rehearse in the small Annibal Caro Theatre situated nearby.

As Oguike explained, it was Steve Martland who composed the music under the influence of Blake’s poem. Oguike himself consulted it and was fascinated by some of its evocative images, especially in the first quatrain: “Tiger, tiger burning bright / In the forests of the night, / What immortal hand or eye / Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”.

He focused on the notion of symmetry and, most of all, on the possibility of breaking a symmetry, thus unfolding the development of new patterns. And the idea of pattern making, compared to that employed for oriental carpets, constitutes the basis for his approach -- an approach which has to be then connected to the studying of dynamics. In the poem, the blacksmith is an important figure which stands for creation, and for Oguike, it is connected not so much to the Creation with capital letter, but rather to small evolving creations taking place on less absolute levels.

The evening was structured into two parts, one dedicated to a lecture demonstration of the new version of ”Tiger Dancing” which is near completion, and another one characterised by the presentation of some extracts from two older pieces, ”Front Line” and ”Finale”. As Oguike’s translator, I was directly involved in the event, and my involvement made me see and perceive the performance from a different perspective.

The atmosphere was informal, and it was introduced by the company warming up on stage, curtain open. Gilberto Santini, artistic consultant of Civitanova Danza, briefly talked about the residency project, and then Oguike and I entered the stage. Different aspects of his method were explained: the complexity of the music which led Oguike to change some of its tempos to adapt it to his choreographic need; his approach to movement done through scales of various sizes; the repetition of geometric figures such as that of the pyramid; the necessity to create cohesion between design and dynamics.

The dancers were asked to show certain poses in order for Oguike to tangibly exemplify his discourse. For example, Antony Kurt with his legs wide open forming a triangle, feet in parallel, and his arms intertwined so as to form smaller triangles, showed the possibility for scales of different sizes to be repeated in the same pattern.

After this intense demonstration, not devoid of irony and jokes, Oguike’s long time collaborator as lighting designer, Guy Hoare, added his view. He was impressed by the poem’s images of the forest, which possibly brought him to choose a green lighting, and its images of the “fearful symmetry” which resulted in the use of striped effects.

After this, the company presented a long fragment from “Tiger Dancing” with music, costumes and lighting. It is a high-paced piece with a lot of ground level movements and articulated torso shifting. The arm positions follow imaginary lines in different directions. In this sense, particularly poetic was Oguike’s image of the stage as canvas where he attempts to constantly construct and deconstruct patterns. 

The dancers do not always move in unison, and group phrases are alternated to duets or solo pieces. The animal element of the tiger slightly emerges, for example, via Sarita Piotrowski’s subtle head movement. There is also the percussive element of the feet which recalls that performed in “Front Line”. Elizabeth Baker’s light and dark brown costumes are characterised by horizontal and vertical stripes done through the tearing of the fabric. They contribute to highlight Oguike’s exploration of space through lines.

“Tiger Dancing” promises to be an exciting new piece, and the audience was thrilled and seduced by the energetic dancing of the company. An extract from “Front Line” set to Shostakovich’s String Quarter No. 9 followed, again with lines forming and changing via the dancers’ fast stepping. And the closure, with an extract from ”Finale”, was the perfect choice to end the evening, given its joyful mood and wide use of space.

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