Welcome to April, Wintonians. Here’s our guide to what’s on this month…
Don’t be alarmed but the Daleks are coming. Get ready for a weekend of Dr Who-tastic fun at the Science Centre and Planetarium. It’s going to be a total invasion, with actors scattered around the site and you may well meet a Sontaran, SIlurians, Autons, the 5th Doctor, Clockwork Droids or The Foretold Mummy. Super-fans may be interested to note that actors Jon Davey, Matthew Dale and John Levene will be taking part. Visit the Science Centre website for more details on the Dr Who theme weekend, 9-10 April, 9.30am – 5.30pm.
Get ready to strike a pose for it’s the sixth edition of the Winchester Fashion week, 25 – 30 April. Expect six days of workshops, VIP fashion events and of course the finale catwalk at the Guildhall. For more details, visit the Winchester Fashion week website.
Parents, grandparents, aunties and uncles – it’s a Peppa alert. Peppa Pig will be making a live appearance at the Theatre Royal 23 & 24 April at various times. Peppa Pig Surprise is recommended for children up to 7 years. Time Out hails it as “enjoyably inventive”. For more details, visit the Theatre Royal website here.
Plenty to enjoy then as Spring finally gets into full swing.
For decades I was a free-lance arts journalist writing primarily about dance, theatre and live performance for The Times and many other publications and websites. I still follow this career path pretty, I must admit, assiduously. But a couple of years ago the road I’ve been travelling in the arts widened considerably.
In May 2013 George Sallis, the producer of Giant Olive Theatre, made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. Would I, he asked, ever want to curate a dance festival? As I subsequently learnt, one small ‘Yes’ can help shift the direction of your entire professional life. Answering George in the affirmative put a fresh and active spin on all my years of theatre-going and talent-spotting wordsmithery. The result was GOlive, a series of highly eclectic, sometimes challenging yet always engaging evenings that place a spotlight on mainly live and movement-based performances.
GOlive launched in September 2013 at London’s Lion and Unicorn pub theatre, Kentish Town as a marathon of 24 shows in 21 days featuring nearly 100 artists. It’s since been repeated there three times in an increasingly more laboratorial but no less diverse fashion, with works-in-progress shown alongside more finished pieces. Exactly a year later GOlive made its first foray outside of the Big Smoke, playing at the University of Winchester to a small but appreciative invited audience. Having successfully tested the touring waters, we subsequently presented in mid-July 2015 four nights of carefully and deliciously mixed bills at the compact but hugely inviting Burton Taylor Studio run by the Oxford Playhouse.
The works I present tend to be short and, invariably, extremely varied in terms of style and content. It’s really a case of an unpredictable but consistently tasty assortment of strong performance flavours slipping onto your tongue one after the other. That’s certainly true of the six gifted artists I’ve invited to be part of GOlive Winchester. Their age range spans close to half a century, all but one is female and the themes each is exploring – as well as the tone in which they do so – cover a lot of creative ground.
First out of the gate is Shane Shambhu. Trained in the classical Indian dance form bharata natyam, Shane is also an experienced actor who has worked with the celebrated company Complicite on their hit show A Disappearing Number. Shane’s solo, which premiered at GOlive London and subsequently toured to Oxford, is a playful, thoughtful and revealing autobiographical lecture-demonstration called ‘My Inside Playground.’ It’s about his relationship to the culture of Indian dance and the traditions with which he grew up as a British-Asian.
Debbie Lee-Anthony’s‘Threshold’ is a contemplative solo reflecting on life at a transitional stage. ‘Gently simmering on the back burner, time passes and new beginnings beckon’ is how Debbie sums it up. This moving, honest and resonant solo also premiered at GOlive London.
Hanna Wroblewski’s compelling, visceral ‘My Heart became this Monster’ uses flesh (and fabric) to uncover what remains beyond words. It’s a thoroughly thought-out but ambiguous dance, difficult for Hanna to perform and potentially hard to watch mainly because she makes herself so physically and emotionally vulnerable in order to do it.
After an interval comes Mara Vivas’ Trace,’ an elegant, richly detailed examination of memory and its impact on perception. In it a woman navigates familiar territory, sometimes recalling long-buried experiences… Onstage Mara exudes a fierce, concentrated beauty that renders her solo a small but choice gem amongst the rest of the programme’s jewels.
The Eastleigh-based dance and performance artist Hayley Barker is a kind of performance miniaturist who uses whatever it takes to put across her ideas. Driven to find new forms of movement via what she calls ‘biographical caricatures,’ Hayley likes to mix reality and fiction. ‘The nothing space’ is a test bed for her latest experiments, and will apparently more abstract for her than usual. I say ‘apparently’ because Hayley’s solo is the bill’s one wild card, meaning that I won’t have seen it myself until on the day it’s shown at Chesil. That’s one of the things I’m willing to do as curator of GOlive. That is, I trust the people whose work I believe in to deliver the goods. This certainly includes Hayley, whose performance the public and I will be discovering together.
Last but by no means least is the visual arts critic turned feisty, fearlessly frank and funny soloist Sarah Kent (aka Degenerate 15). Sarah will be laying herself on the line in a daring and possibly defiant piece of improvised action-theatre entitled ‘Past Muster.’ Bittersweet rather than sugar-coated, this lithe lady is irresistibly moreish.
There you have it. It is, to my way of thinking, a wonderful roster of unique performers. In the bigger picture I’m something between tickled and thrilled to be bringing GOlive to Winchester, especially to a venue that’s both new to us and has such a venerable history as a place of religion and theatre – each, in its way, a ritual practice that can be good for both the soul and the brain.
Donald Hutera writes about the arts for The Times, People Dancing, londondance.com and more. He conducts annual workshops on dance criticism for English National Ballet, broadcasts his views on theatre and dance for Monocle radio and has served as a director and/or dramaturg and press adviser for GOlive and other artists. Additionally he edits The Winchester Guide.
Ask Cassa Pancho, the artistic director of Ballet Black, what her dreams and plans for the company are and she answers, ‘To keep going.’ It might sound simple, maybe even glib, but behind the succinct reply is a vast amount of sheer hard graft.
Pancho, who is of Trinidadian and British parentage, studied classical ballet at the Royal Academy. Upon graduating, and having noted a dearth of people of colour either studying or working professionally in the ballet sphere, she decided to address this alarming omission by starting a company of her own. The result was Ballet Black, founded in 2001 with a mission to ‘provide dancers and students of black and Asian descent with inspiring opportunities in classical ballet.’
Here at The Winchester Guide we’re partial to Ballet Black, having worked with the company in the summer of 2009 on the production POP8 at the Giant Olive Theatre. It seems that audiences in Winchester may be likewise favourably inclined, given that the company’s upcoming performances at the Theatre Royal Nov 28 (triple bill, 7.30pm) and 29 (family show Dogs Don’t Do Ballet, 2pm and 4.30pm) constitutes its second visit to the venue. With any luck, this might well develop into an annual occurrence.
Pancho, not unnaturally, enjoys sharing information what the work the company is doing. As do the choreographers she invites to create on her dancers. It wouldn’t be inaccurate to call it a mutual admiration society.
Consider Martin Lawrance, a long-time associate (as both dancer and dance-maker) of Richard Alston’s company. The curtain-raising Limbo is the third time that he’s made work for Ballet Black, following the 2009 duet Pendulum and the quartet Captured three years later. Pancho deems his new work, a trio about being caught between life and death, ‘fiendishly difficult and exhausting to dance – but worth it!’
Lawrance, for his part, has a high regard for Ballet Black’s dancers. ‘They can do everything,’ he enthuses. ‘How can I get them to do things better, by which I mean push them in a different way?’ The result, set to Hindemeth’s fastidiously dramatic Viola Sonata, is a dark, dynamic piece that fulfils Lawrance’s creative brief to mine human feeling out of motion. ‘You make movement,’ he says, explaining his approach to choreography. ‘I don’t go into the studio with a dramatic idea. I just see where the phrases lead, but as it turns out that can be done poetically.’
Sharing the first half of Friday’s evening bill with Lawrance’s Limbo is Two of a Kind by dancer (including with Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures) turned chorographer Christopher Marney. Pancho describes it as ‘a beautiful quartet set to Ravel and Tchaikovsky, exploring the theme of one woman’s internal journey through the course of a changing relationship.’ This work has been expanded from its original state as an eight-minute pas de deux fashioned for a Ballet Black fundraiser in 2009.
Two of a Kind is the second dance Marney’s made for the company, after having scored a hit with War Letters last year. But it doesn’t stop there. Marney is also responsible for Dogs Don’t Do Ballet, based on Anna Kemp’s best-selling children’s book about, in Pancho’s words, ‘a little dog who thinks he’s a ballerina and doesn’t want to do anything but dance. The company really enjoys working with Chris as his choreography is incredibly inventive, funny and touching – all the things that make the book so special.’ Pancho is pleased because, as she says, ‘I’ve always wanted to have a ballet for families to enjoy together.’
Another important aspect of Dogs Don’t Do Ballet, she adds, is that it marks the first time Ballet Black is using a set. Is it any wonder that Marney’s scheduled to make another work for the company in 2016?
That only leaves Arthur Pita’s Olivier and Critics’ Circle-nominated ensemble piece A Dream Within A Midsummer Night’s Dream to be discussed. ‘I’d wanted to work with Arthur for a while,’ Pancho confesses, ‘and when he suggested a Midsummer Night’s Dream that’s turned on its head I jumped at the chance. We have an incredible catalogue of ballets, but for our fourth narrative work I wanted to try something less traditional and really give the dancers a challenge. Arthur’s created a pure gem of a ballet for us, traditional in one sense – it’s our first time with tutus! – but just as you think you’re going to see something very classical he pulls the rug out from under you. The music includes Eartha Kitt, Handel, Jeff Buckley, Yma Sumac and Barbara Streisand, to name a few. Arthur has a true gift for weaving these things together to make one of my all-time favourite BB ballets. It feels like a real piece of theatre. We’ve toured it around the UK and Italy, and audiences are loving it.’
You could hardly ask for a more heart-felt and articulate endorsement than that. Still, it’s worth finding out what it meant to Pita himself to create the piece. For starters, he really appreciates that with this 25-minute work for eight dancers he was able to take a risk. ‘The first section of the piece is a ballet with tutus, tights, pointe shoes and the works – something I’d never done. I’m totally fascinated by the laws of the tutu and how they marry to a balletic vocabulary. It was wonderful collaborating with designer Jean-Marc Puissant who has such vast knowledge about tutus. I learned so much about the atheistic of ballet generally, and the dancers were so encouraging. I’d also just come out of doing a darker piece prior to working with Ballet Black, and so I felt the need to do something lighter and have some fun with the dancers.’
Pita says his goal was ‘to create a ballet in which rules can be broken and mended within the laws of classical ballet and theatre.’ But his intentions towards his source material remained honourable. ‘I’ve always loved A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I played the Indian boy way back in the English National Opera’s production of Purcell’s The Fairy Queen, and I remember thinking how well the narrative lent itself to dance and music. Shakespeare provides much mischief and glorious images to play with, yet there’s an honesty in all of the characters’ desire. It’s not faithful, but it’s certainly inspired by the world of Shakespeare’s Dream. It’s an adaptation of the idea, hence the title. The images of the narrative are there, but the journey to them is different.’
Asked to pinpoint what the pleasure of working with Ballet Black is, Pita replies, ‘It’s the passion they have for their work. They work in a tiny space in Marylebone, and I mean tiny, and only have a big studio once a week at the Royal Opera House. Somehow, with love and compassion, they manage with no complaints. There’s a joyous atmosphere in the studio. And Cassa gives herself fully. She cares so much about the company and what it stands for. She’s kept the company going with only a little support from Arts Council England, but has gone from strength to strength.’
Based at Marylebone Dance Studio in London, Ballet Black occupies a unique place on the British dance scene and Pancho is rightly proud of it. ‘We’ve achieved many things over the years. Our main goal was and is to inspire more children and dancers of black or Asian heritage to take up ballet in some form.’ To that end, she says, ‘We have a thriving school for children that’s packed with students of all colours; they come to the performances, take classes, and pass ballet exams. Another goal was going from being a part-time group to a full-time professional company over fourteen years. We’ve won two Critics’ Circle awards (plus three nominations) and have toured extensively throughout the UK, Italy and Bermuda. Our entirely original repertoire of over 30 ballets by over 25 choreographers is also quite rare.’ While Pancho admits that ‘a lack of substantial, regular money makes it challenging to plan too far ahead,’ she remains determined and optimistic about the company’s future. ‘I don’t like to think that anything can hold us back.’
Tipped by Dance Europe as one of 2014’s highlights on the Dance scene, GOlive made its way to Winchester for one night at Winchester University in what will be the first of many visits…
Imaginations Flowing: A Review of GOlive at Winchester University – September 16, 2014
Since the birth of the GOlive Dance and Performance Festival in September 2013 at the Giant Olive Theatre, Kentish Town, its topsy-turvy programme has provided a platform for both new and returning artists back-to-back with an average of five different ‘acts’ per night. This autumn the multi-disciplinary festival presented mixed bills on nine nights over a two-week period in London, plus an additional evening hosted by The University of Winchester on September 16.
The low-key, rough-and-ready nature of GOlive gives it an edge, with artists being showcased in a wonderfully intimate but exposing way. Each evening is entirely unique, presenting a lucky dip of works-in-progress, excerpts of longer shows or short and snappy finished pieces. But it’s the curation of twenty-minute or so works of all sorts that gives this festival its power. With such variety and juxtaposition in GOlive’s palm, its audiences are bombarded with enquiring and thinking pieces that allow for new ‘ways of seeing’ (to quote John Berger) via their order on the programme.
Mamoru Iriguchi introduced his semi-biographical work-in-progress [working title: Marlene Backwards] as a play on the three standard dimensions but with the addition of a fourth – time. Using spoken text and a series of video projections broken by time, space or Iriguchi’s own face as a centrepiece, he distorted the linear narrative of German actress/singer Marlene Dietrich’s life. In this manner Iriguchi exposed the facades created by technology – facades that are easily perceived as absolute through a camera lens. It was when his own technology failed him – and as he moved in and out of character – that Iriguchi’s clunky, awkwardly stop-start performance gained what I believe to be its ‘real’ extra dimension: the falling in and out of perceived reality. As a recording of the same performance (given previously in Germany) was played in reverse, the piece’s formal and visual elements became the focus alongside a screaming sense of dislocation in time, place, and language. Iriguchi was effectively reminding us how fallible, changeable and interlinked our constructed realities and technologies are.
Debbie Lee-Anthony’s reworked autobiographical solo A nice little project (shown in Winchester Chapel at Every Word HurtsonJune 26, 2014) returned for several nights at GOlive in London, plus this one-off in Winchester. After handing out biscuits, Lee-Anthony took the audience through a nostalgic sharing of all things nice whilst also exploring the psychological implications of ‘nice’ people. Honest recollection of negative responses to her actions and personality revealed undertones of suffocation and frustration. In other words, Lee-Anthony relived the emotions associated with these experiences whilst describing them through words and dance. The audience was drawn into the dialogue by sharing mutual scenarios of ‘niceness,’ something that would strengthen the unsettling nature of the piece if it were to reoccur as Lee-Anthony’s themes became darker and yet more academic – thus creating possible moments of self-reflection for us.
Hayley Barker (an associate artist at The Point, Eastleigh) brought her second piece Venus to GOlive, a work-in-progress that casually invited the audience to observe closely this doll-like redhead as she grinned and grimaced, chewed, preened and agitated. Several times Barker snacked from a bag of nuts whilst accumulating a jolting movement vocabulary into a distorted, grotesque version of herself. Clear motions were repeated, building up a dynamic tension and a sense of expectation that remained unfulfilled due to this short work’s sudden finish. As Hutera later commented to Barker, ‘I wondered if we’d see you vomit those nuts over the stage.’ Plainly a massive explosion of some kind was anticipated, or possibly a handful of nuts greedily gobbled, dribbled and spat out; there was a mess to be made, or a purging of movement both ugly and cathartic and blurring the line between satisfaction and self-loathing. But the sudden stop to Barker’s piece was powerful in itself, and perhaps said more about the urges and longings that were left in the spectator’s imaginations. Was it not brave of Barker to end her work there and refuse to give the audience its climax? I think so.
Nuno Silva and Sabio Janiak are two other GOlive alumni imported from London to Winchester. In this piece Silva serenaded the audience, some of whom were invited to sit in the round onstage in close proximity to the performers and their instruments. The magnetising Silva quietly introduced each fado, illuminating the Portuguese national song just enough to set imaginations flowing as we reclined into a candlelit world of music at once soulful and comforting as a lullaby. Silva’s constantly circling choreography and intensity as a singer and dancer was trance-inducing. Janiak’s complete concentration creating live music with voice and multi-instrumentals was equally mesmerising. Their collaboration created a whirlwind of emotion, transporting this spectator into another realm.
Sarah Kent, a familiar face in GOlive, brought the house down as she always does. Engaging in a performance ‘conversation’ with her is unpredictable and chancy. Kent’s stream-of-consciousnessis structured and knowing but risks being never-ending. Batty as ever, funny, naughty and completely unabashed, her improvised form of ‘action theatre’ drew in this instance on features of the theatrical and architectural space as she evoked memories and stories from her past. From high-pitched wails to car engines to on-the-spot singing, her use of voice in Winchester was powerful and solidly dependable.
To sum up, GOlive never fails to intrigue and catch you unawares. There’s an oddness of character about this festival which makes each outing – whether in Kentish Town or Winchester – so interesting. Wherever you see GOlive, and on whatever night, you’re guaranteed to laugh, question your own assumptions and be surprised. Hosted by the University, the ‘one-night stand’ in Winchester occurred at what is only the beginning of the festival’s second year of existence. What a treat it was to view both London and local artists together. Curator Donald Hutera’s ‘troupe’ was honest and humble during a post-show talk where the works we’d just seen were dissected and unpicked. Each artist was passionate and eloquent about his or her intentions and process, valuing the dialogue with the audience. With any luck GOlive’s visit to Winchester will turn out to be the first of many to the city…
The name GOlive is derived from the place of origin of the first festival: the Giant Olive Theatre in London, located in the heart of Kentish Town at the Lion and Unicorn. GOlive was launched there a year ago this month as a 21-day marathon showcasing the work of 57 individuals or companies (or, tabulated another way, 98 artists altogether). The festival then returned this past spring in a more selective ‘headliners plus special guests’ format. Now it’s back in yet another guise as GOlive/GOlab. The emphasis during this current laboratorial version is on works-in-progress, which means the presence of anyone in the room can potentially influence a show’s future development. [For the record, the remaining London performance dates are September 13, 14, 15, 19, 20 and 21 at 7.30pm. Admission is by donation (£5 suggested) but all are welcome. Full details available at www.giantolive.com or via Twitter: @GiantOlive and Facebook]
Enough about London! What’s up with GOlive in Winchester? Thanks to a nascent association with the good people at Winchester University, the festival is happily going ‘on the road’ for one night only. The plan is to present five ‘acts’ in two different black box theatre spaces on campus starting at 7pm on September 16. The evening is part of a roster of activities for new students, but anyone who’s interested will be warmly welcome – and, from my perspective, positively encouraged – to attend. I’m both tickled and thrilled that GOlive is, in effect, now on tour (and this without benefit of government or any other form of subsidy aside from the in-kind generosity of the University’s Faculty of Arts).
I’ll close with a thumbnail description of each of the works on offer that evening, and the gifted people who created them. Enjoy reading and, ideally, venturing out to the University campus to actually see the entire show. It’s likely to be a most scintillating night…
Independent movement artist Hayley Barker (also an associate artist at The Point, Eastleigh) creates structured improvisations built imaginatively from real and fictional people/stories. In the work-in-progress ‘Venus’ (working title) she considers the history of human exhibitions, voyeurism and contemporary pop culture’s obsession with the body. (10 mins approx.)
The designer/performer Mamoru Iriguchi likes using lo-fi, DIY technology to blur actual and virtual realities, usually with an inventively droll sense of humour. For this edition of GOlive he’ll be testing out nascent ideas, asking what’s live and what (if anything) is eternally fixed… (20 mins)
The highly-regarded ex-Time Out visual arts critic turned fearlessly frank and funny soloist Sarah Kent (aka Degenerate 15) lays herself on the line in a defiant piece of action-theatre called ‘No Holds Barred.’ (15-20 mins max)
A dancer and choreographer who trained at The Place, Debbie Lee-Anthony is a senior lecturer at the University of Winchester. Her current focus is solo autobiographical performance. Taking notions of niceness as a theme, ‘A nice little project’ is a series of intimate danced and spoken vignettes designed to engage, provoke and entertain. (20 mins)
Multi-talented Nuno Silva (singer, dancer, actor and the fulcrum of Nu Music and Dance) and multi-instrumentalist/composer Sabio Janiak develop further a fusion of contemporary dance, fado (Portugal’s national song style) and electronic/live music first unveiled at GOlive 2013. (15-20 mins) Twitter: @nnunoev
by Donald Hutera
The arts & culture guide for the city of Winchester in Hampshire.