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National Dance Company of Wales

'Phantom of Us', 'B/olero & Black Milk', 'The Grammar of Silence'

by David Mead

May 4, 2012-- Curve, Leicester, UK

The National Dance Company of Wales has an impressive record of acquiring works from noted overseas choreographers. Its latest programme is no exception, bringing together pieces by in demand Israeli dance-makers Ohad Naharin and Itzik Galili, with one by emerging choreographer and company dancer Eleesha Drennan. All round the company looked on great form, with high production values and quality dance throughout.

In “Phantoms of Us”, Eleesha Drennan considers the search for human individuality. There is something of a tribal feel to matters, emphasised by the prehistoric cave painting images that are projected onto the backcloth. Angharad Spencer’s skin-tight, skin-coloured body suits make the dancers appear naked and vulnerable, humanoid but somewhat androgynous. As the dancers step forward from the drawings they are like spirits searching for an identity. “Phantoms” is a thoughtful piece with some impressive solos spliced in with well-structured ensemble sections. Much of the dance is very grounded with lots of deep plies and pulsing through the body as the performers faint and support each other. Drennan clearly has talent and is definitely one to watch.

Ohad Naharin’s “B/olero & Black Milk” is a work in two very distinct parts, so distinct in fact that any connection was totally lost on me. Ravel’s “Bolero” has always been one of those pieces of music choreographers feel compelled to try to work with, but with which few succeed. Naharin escapes the problematic power of the score by using a shortened synthesised version. His choreography for two women, danced here by Lee Johnston and Eleesha Drennan, is a bit like watching a minimalist score come to life with its machine-like repetition, interspersed with moments of variation and counterpoint, but not enough to hold the interest.

The “Black Milk” half of the piece took us back to a tribal mood. After a slow start, in which the all male cast ritually smeared watery black mud on their faces as if preparing for a ritual, it bursts into life. The dance is a maelstrom of aggressive energy as the dancers leap and turn, running to all corners of the stage, devouring the space. Whirling, smooth turns are punctuated by sharp changes of direction and exciting leaps. It is as if something has taken charge of their bodies. Eventually one of the dancers frantically washes the mud off in an attempt to free himself from this unseen force. The others continue, turning on him, before it ends rather suddenly, and without any real conclusion.

Itzik Galili has become a regular collaborator with the company, “The Grammar of Silence” being his third work for them. A driving score featuring music by Gavin Bryars, Aaron Jay Kernis and Peter Sculthorpe is matched by percussive, powerful and emotionally charged dance. At the centre of the piece is a tense duet, danced here by Annabeth Berekely and Gareth Mole. I’m not sure if the relationship is coming to an end, but there certainly seems to have been an argument. He wants to make up, she does not. The dance is most tactile. He gently places his hand against her face, caressing her. He tries again and again, but every attempt at tenderness is pushed away as she rejects him. It’s something you can imagine it happening in real life, the couple really not talking as the scene plays out.


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