London Contemporary Dance School
by David Mead
July 1, 2008 -- The Place, London
Early July is an exciting time at The Place, as students take part in a series of graduation performances. Highlights of the 2008 shows were new works from London Contemporary Dance School alumni Kim Brandstrup and Martin Lawrance, a new piece by Marc Brew, and a reworking of Hofesh Shechter's “Cult,” originally commissioned by The Place for the 2004 Place Prize. But it’s a time for new choreographers too. The series of different programmes also featured selected works made by the students during their time at the School.
Most impressive of the four works by professional choreographers were Kim Brandstrup’s “Push” and Martin Lawrance’s “Left Behind,” both of which will be around for a long time. Both works called for great musicality from the dancers, but also a high level of contemporary dance technique, in contrast to much of the students’ own work, which tended to focus more on everyday movement and gesture. Danced to three of Bach’s English Suites, “Push” was all about relationships and featured a series of beautifully crafted and often lyrical duets and small group sections. One long duet for two of the girls stood out as especially impressive, both for the choreography and the quality of performance.
Martin Lawrance has worked with Richard Alston for over twelve years and his influence was clearly evident in “Left Behind.” Like Alston, Lawrance is intensely musical. He has created a series of nicely balanced dances to Shostakovich’s 24 Preludes arranged for violin and piano, several of which appear to draw on the folk dance themes evident in the score. The work did, however, highlight a hesitancy among many of the dancers when performing in unison. This was especially evident in the afternoon performance, although things had much improved by the evening.
Of the other two professional works, Marc Brew’s “Strata” rather often suffered from an excess of things happening at the same time. The solo and duet sections were well made, but when he brought everyone together things tended to get messy and crowded. Having said that, the section where everyone appeared as if part of some ancient frieze on the back wall, occasionally changing position as a rectangular light moved along the line, was very effective indeed.
Originally created as a sextet for the 2004 Place Prize, for these performances, Hofesh Shechter’s “Cult” was reworked for a larger cast of twelve. It started with a dark and psychologically intimidating atmosphere, helped along by loud pumping beats. It certainly showed how cults can come into being in everyday society. Some of the movement calls for individuality, but there is always a dark, unseen force that is pulling everyone back together. The high action dancing was strong throughout. The cast certainly seemed to enjoy this far more than the other pieces. The work was, however, ruined by a soundtrack that was far too loud; so loud that the seating was vibrating. The choreography of the opening sections especially is strong enough to create the atmosphere as it is. There is no need to seriously aurally discomfort the audience too.
As is usual in graduation shows, the student works came in a wide variety of styles. The afternoon performance opened with “Moi, non, bon” by Sebastian Kurth, a witty duet that drew heavily on commedia dell ‘arte, and made great use of exaggerated gesture and innocent surprise. In “You are a Crocodile,” Janine Proost featured lots of speech, but never really took off or went anywhere. In “Self Conscious?” Sam Cohen asked his five male dancers just that. Full of nervous smiles, sideways glances and some great contact work, it was an absolute delight. The young audience for the show enjoyed it enormously.
Best of all though was Elsa Petit’s “Catch the Train,” in which the minimalist music of Ravi Shankar and Philip Glass was cleverly combined with choreography of the same minimalist vein. Although each dancer’s movement was quite repetitive, and they all moved from stage left to stage right, enough variation and tone was injected to make the piece interesting to watch. All the action took place around the striking image of a woman in a red dress, slowly moving across the stage in the same direction, leaving a long red train behind her.
The evening student works were less inspiring. If anything, Matthew Robinson seemed to have far too much material. His “Ache” suffered from trying to cram too much in. He particularly liked to have half his dancers in unison doing one thing, while the other half, on the other side of the stage, in unison doing something else, which was rather unbalanced and made it hard to take everything in. The other evening works were “Inter” by Litizia Mazzeo, and “La Costurera” by Alexandre Achour, the latter featuring the ‘birth’ of a full size man, for some reason with his head attached to his leg. I’m sure it meant something, but it was lost on me.
As a whole, two shows that gave an excellent opportunity for the new graduates to show themselves and their work off. On July 1st, two very different audiences, one comprising mostly primary school children, and the other seemingly mostly made of friends, family and school staff, both gave the diverse programmes a deservedly enthusiastic welcome. Although all the student works were short, there is clearly more than a little choreographic talent amongst the graduates. The challenge of course is for them to now to turn that promise into a professional career.