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A Celebration of Bob Lockyer

by David Mead

April 13, 2012 -- The Place, London, UK

“Time flies when you are having fun” wrote Bob Lockyer in the opening line of the programme for his 70th birthday celebration at The Place. He was referring to his time working at the BBC where he recorded many of Robert Cohan’s seminal works for the London Contemporary Dance Theatre’s such as “Cell”, “Waterless”, “Method of Swimming Instruction”, “Stabat Mater”, “Forest”…, plus work by Ballet Rambert, Christopher Bruce, Richard Alston, Mark Baldwin and others. He also, of course, created “Dance for the Camera”, a series of over 50 programmes that received many major international awards.

Lockyer’s comment, though, applied equally to this birthday party performance. You might have expected the evening to look back at some of the wonderful films he produced, many of which languish in the BBC archives and haven’t been seen for years. Not so. He wanted the evening to look forward, so instead invited some of the leading names in British dance to commission new pieces from emerging choreographers, or present something new themselves.

First up were Drew Hawkins and Andy Macleman, third year undergraduates from the London Contemporary Dance School, who twisted and turned in Macleman’s “Drone”. Dressed in outsized collarless grey coats they whirled around each other in a slow-motion and rather tender Dervish fashion. As a hors d’oeuvre it worked fine. It was well-structured and danced, although maybe a little me seasoning might not have come amiss.

Classical ballet is something of a rarity at The Place but that didn’t stop Monica Mason commissioning a piece from Royal Ballet School final year student Sebastian Goffin. His “Papillon” was a charming moment in the lives of two young lovers in the Kensington Gardens of the 1830s. It opened with both sat on a park bench, Mayara Magri reading quietly while Skyler Martin got increasingly bored and fidgety. How refreshing it was to see a young choreographer who is not afraid of some stillness in dance. The pas de deux that developed was full of the innocence of youth and delightfully ‘English’. It won over the audience (there were a few audible mumblings when the lights first went up), got a huge ovation and deservedly so.

Mark Baldwin’s “Prayer” featured a quartet of women from Rambert taking turns to come to life in a series of solos full of arabesques and pirouettes but often with sharply angled arms, standing still at other times. It was somewhat reminiscent of Cunningham, beautifully danced, yet cool.

In “The Way It Works Is This…”, commissioned by Siobhan Davies, dancer and choreographer Charlie Morrissey moved back and forth across the stage to Orlando Gough’s soundscore. It certainly evoked moments from early film sequences as intended, but would have struggled to hold the interest beyond its five minutes.

Of the new pieces, the highlight of the evening was undoubtedly “Lake Maligne” by Rob Binet, Choreographic Apprentice at The Royal Ballet, and commissioned for the evening by Wayne McGregor. Dressed starkly in white and dancing against a black background, Random dancer Daniela Neugebauer brought to life superbly the combination of angular lines and graceful sinuous beauty found in Canadian “Group of Seven” artist Lawren Harris’ paintings of the Canadian north, from where the inspiration for the piece came. The dance, initially full of trademark McGregor twists and exaggerated extensions before becoming gradually more lyrical, was austere yet had monumental force and elegance. It quite rightly got a storming reception.

Richard Alston’s company made three contributions to proceedings, all packed with outstanding precision and easy on the eye dance. “Isthmus” was a playful new short piece by Alston himself. An excerpt from Robert Cohan’s “In Memory” gave the one real look back in the evening, and in which Nancy Nerantzi was entrancing in a duet with Liam Riddick. And for a party it’s hard to think of a better closing piece than “Shuffle It Right”. Hoagy Carmichael’s jazzy “Riverboat Shuffle” and “March of the Hoodlums”, allied with Alston’s joyous choreography sent everyone home very happy indeed.

Happy Birthday Bob!

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