Transitions Dance Company
Mixed Bill: a place between/ Squall/ hold on, let me go
London, Laban Theatre
4 June 2014
It is always a pleasure to watch this company of equals, young people enjoying that exciting, yet uncertain, period at the juncture between formal dance training and their aspirations for a professional career. Transitions has been going for over 30 years, now providing a postgraduate touring company experience for twelve young dancers, backed up by further technical training leading to an MA in performance. Based at the inspirational Laban Building in Deptford Creekside, each year’s intake is selected by audition. Competition is high and while seven of this year’s dozen are alumni of Trinity Laban, others have arrived via Gateshead College, London Contemporary Dance School, Northern School of Contemporary Dance, the University of Maryland in Baltimore and the Australian Conservatoire of Ballet (via two years in the company’s youth ensemble). In keeping with some kind of unspoken dance formula, eight are women with just four men and the international diversity of dance is well represented with three from England, two each from Scotland and Wales and one apiece from Australia, Finland, India, Malta and the USA.
The company tours annually between February and June with this year’s programme taking these young dancers around the UK and to Dublin, Gibraltar and Prague before finishing up back at their home base by Deptford Creek, for three nights. As they reach the end of not just one year’s intensive work together, but in most cases a four-year association with Laban’s wonderful building, an enthusiastic performing zeal was saturated into this mixed bill, unusual in its changes of direction and emphasis, even in the often crackpot world of contemporary dance.
Ikky Maas and Stefanie Batten Bland are choreographers with great names, but previously unknown to me (and I would guess also to the majority, even of hardened contemporary dance followers). Maas trained in ballet in the Netherlands before becoming a contemporary dancer, ending up in London with what was then Ballet Rambert for five years in the early 1980s. He is a founder and director of Millennium Performing Arts, based nearby in Woolwich, and has come to choreography – after performing and teaching – relatively late. His work for Transitions (a place between) is set to music by Handel (and Max Richter) and largely reflects the emotional connection between four female and two male dancers in a tight structure fitted around this gender balance, beginning with a heterosexual couple connected to one another by coloured rope and fragmenting into duets, trios and solos, all infused with a light and poetic touch, containing strong visual elements of the baroque to match Handel’s music. I liked its unassuming, quiet romantic associations but it was the least favoured by the audience, largely comprising current Laban undergraduates.
Batten Bland is a physically demanding, emotional and theatrical choreographer who has worked as a dancer with Bill T. Jones, Angelin Preljocaj and Pina Bausch Tanztheater Wuppertal. Her work for transitions is a passionate interpretation of the human response to the natural world and how that informs gesture and movement, both in terms of violent, quick bursts that may reflect tumultuous climactic events and in quieter, reflective moments where the dancers might just be observing the clouds. Squall is a full-company piece that enjoys a mesmeric score mixed from compositions by the very fashionable Ólafur Arnalds, Nils Frahm and Arjun Bhamra. The dancers begin by wearing raincoats which progressively become aids to the performance, noisily slapped against the floor and then piled downstage as targets for the dancers to bodysurf towards, holding their legs and arms out as if enjoying the pleasures of sky-diving. It looked a joy to perform and – although there were some lulls (those moments watching the clouds) – it was also great fun to watch.
Dog Kennel Hill Project was the only familiar entity within this trio of 2014 choreographers, being an artistic collective formed a decade ago and based around Ben Ash, Henrietta Hale and Rachel Lopez de la Nieta. Although this work (hold on, let me go) goes under the banner of Dog Kennel Hill, it seems likely that Hale (who is also credited with the music and was herself once a performer in Transitions) is the lead creative force. Without any doubt, this was the crowd-pleaser of the evening, replete with zany humour that spills out of the text of a song by Jules Maxwell called The Shifty Sons (about the sons of a record store owner who live in the back), carried along by theatrical dance performances engaging speech alongside gesture and dance. The piece had an ongoing focal point of a set of curtains covering a small stage-within-a-stage to the side being drawn back to reveal different tableaux varying from witty associations to the text to outright slapstick belly laughs.
The unfortunate reality is that so few graduates from contemporary dance schools will find work as dancers but this tight-knit group – under the artistic direction of David Waring – has won an important head start towards that objective. Transitions Dance Company is a finishing school that provides a special opportunity to contextualise their dance studies and training and this year’s ensemble demonstrated a strong range of capabilities across a wide spectrum of skill sets. Applications are now closed for 2014/15 but there will be another opportunity to audition for the 2015/16 year in the autumn/winter 2015/16.